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Amicus Curiae

Understanding the Writ of Amparo in light of Oplan Tokhang

Jan Danelle A. Patindol

March 15, 2017

Since the inception of the highly controversial Oplan Tokhang last year, the Supreme Court sitting en banc has already issued two writs of Amparo.


The first writ of Amparo was issued on Jan. 31 for Efren Murillo, who survived the anti-illegal drug operation conducted on Aug. 21, 2016 in Payatas, Quezon City, and the relatives of garbage collectors Marcello Daa, Jessie Cule, Raffy Gabo, and Anthony Comendo. The second writ was granted on Feb. 21, in favor of Christina Macandog Gonzales, widow of Joselito Gonzales, who died of multiple gunshot wounds on July 5, 2016, during a reported encounter with policemen.

Because of the highlight given by Oplan Tokhang to the writ of Amparo, a discussion on the nature of the writ and its legal implications is due.

Of Mexican origin, the writ of Amparo (“Amparo” literally means “protection” in Spanish) is a remedy available to any person whose right to life, liberty and security is violated or threatened with violation by an unlawful act or omission of a public official or employee, or of a private individual or entity. The writ covers extralegal killings and enforced disappearances or threats thereof.

The governing law on petitions for and the issuance of a writ of Amparo is found in The Rule on the Writ of Amparo (A.M. No. 07-9-12-SC), which was promulgated by the Supreme Court on October 24, 2007.

The writ of Amparo provides rapid judicial relief as it partakes of a summary proceeding that requires only substantial evidence -- such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. It is not an action to determine criminal guilt requiring proof beyond reasonable doubt, or liability for damages requiring preponderance of evidence, or administrative responsibility requiring substantial evidence that will require full and exhaustive proceedings.

The writ serves both preventive and curative roles in addressing the problem of extralegal killings and enforced disappearances. It is preventive in that it breaks the expectation of impunity in the commission of these offenses; it is curative in that it facilitates the subsequent punishment of perpetrators as it will inevitably yield leads to subsequent investigation and action. In the long run, the goal of both the preventive and curative roles is to deter the further commission of extralegal killings and enforced disappearances. (The Secretary of National Defense v. Raymond and Reynaldo Manalo, G.R. No. 180906, 7 October 2008)

The Amparo petition may be filed on any day and at any time with the Regional Trial Court of the place where the threat, act, or omission was committed or any of its elements occurred, or with the Sandiganbayan, the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court, or any justice of such courts. There are no docket and other lawful fees for the petition.

Upon filing of the petition or at any time before final judgment, the court, justice or judge may grant a Temporary Protection Order, Inspection Order, Production Order, or Witness Protection Order.

In the case of Murillo, the Supreme Court issued a Temporary Protection Order barring the police from entering the homes and workplaces of the families of the victims. The Court of Appeals has already made the protection order permanent and ordered the transfer of the police officers involved to an area outside Quezon City and Rizal.

In the case of Gonzales, the Supreme Court disallowed the respondents from entering within a radius of one kilometer from the residence and work address of the petitioner in Antipolo City. It also remanded the case to the Court of Appeals and gave the respondents five working days to make a verified return.

Since July 1, 2016 to Jan. 31, 2017, there have been over 7,000 deaths linked to the war on drugs -- both from legitimate police operations and vigilante-style or unexplained killings, including deaths under investigation. In a statement, Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno lamented that the perception of the rule of law in the country has diminished due to unresolved killings of drug suspects.

The writ of Amparo eases the problem of unresolved killings of drug suspects as it guarantees the aggrieved parties their constitutional rights to life, liberty, and security of person. To reiterate, the goal of the writ is to deter the further commission of extralegal killings and enforced disappearances. As declared by the Supreme Court in the Manalo case, the writ of Amparo is a tool that gives voice to preys of silent guns and prisoners behind secret walls.