MANILA, Philippines – The Supreme Court has banned the Philippine National Police (PNP) from monitoring or surveiling the family of an alleged member of the New People’s Army (NPA) who was killed in San Jose, Antique in 2018.
The Supreme Court en banc, voting 8-5-1, granted the petition for review on certiorari filed by Vivian Sanchez assailing the 2018 decision of the San Jose Regional Trial Court (RTC) to deny her petition for writ of amparo.
In a 19-page ruling promulgated on October 15, 2019, the SC issued a permanent protection order prohibiting members of the PNP to monitor Sanchez and her children, and reminded respondent police officers to uphold the citizens’ rights, and conduct investigations according to their manuals.
In August 16, 2018, Sanchez learned that her estranged husband, Eldie Labinghisa, was among the seven alleged NPA members who were gunned down by the police in Barangay Atabay.
She said that when she first went to the funeral home to verify the news, she was unable to identify her husband’s body as police officers stationed there took her photos without her permission.
When she went back the next day, police allegedly threatened to arrest and charge her if she refused to answer their questions. She claimed that police officers even showed up at her house and tailed her even after confirming that the body was of Labinghisa.
The court also said that Sanchez’s 15-year old daughter categorically stated that police cars have frequently driven by their house.
On August 24, 2018, Sanchez filed a petition for writ of amparo before the San Jose RTC, alleging that the police officers’ constant surveillance of her and her family made them fear for their safety.
The RTC issued the writ of amparo and a temporary protection order but was later lifted after the judge found during summary hearing that she was unable to specify acts that threatened her security and liberty.
The lower court’s decision prompted her to bring the case to the Supreme Court.
In its ruling, the SC concluded that Sanchez did not merely imagine the threats against her and her family.
“The totality of obtaining circumstances likewise shows that Vivian and her children were the subject of surveillance because of their relationship with a suspected member of the New People’s Army, creating a real threat to their life, liberty or security,” the court said in a decision penned by Associate Justice Marvic Leonen.
The court considered Sanchez’s apprehension at being targeted as a suspected NPA member as palpable and understandable, causing her to “act suspiciously” as claimed by the respondent police officers, who subjected her to threats and accusations.
In deciding whether or not Sanchez was able to prove with substantial evidence her entitlement to the privilege of a writ of amparo, the SC found that the totality of her evidence undoubtedly showed that she became a person of interest after she had first visited the funeral home, where her photo was taken.
“Whether [Vivian]’s photo was actually posted and distributed at the police station or was just taken for future reference, the taking of the photo bolsters [Vivian]’s claims that she was being monitored by the police,” the court said.
“While pursuing rebels is a legitimate law enforcement objective, the zeal of our police must be bound by the fundamental rights of persons, especially the loved ones of persons in interest. After all, the values we have in our Constitution are what differentiate us from lawless elements,” the court further stated.