SC Grants Writ of Amparo; Issues Permanent Protection Order Against PNP

February 27, 2020

“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 Supreme Court (SC) en banc voting 8-5-1 (Hernando, A. Reyes, Jr., Gesmundo, Carandang, and Zalameda JJ., dissenting; J. Reyes, Jr., J. on leave), granted the Petition for Review on Certiorari filed by Vivian A. Sanchez assailing the September 13, 2018 decision of the Regional Trial Court (RTC), which denied her Petition for a writ of amparo.

In a 19-page decision promulgated on October 15, 2019, the SC, through the ponencia of Associate Justice Marvic M.V.F. Leonen, issued a Permanent Protection Order prohibiting members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) from monitoring or surveilling petitioner Vivian A. Sanchez and her children, Scarlet Sanchez Labinghisa and Star Sanchez Labinghisa. The respondent police officers were also reminded to uphold the rights of citizens as contained in the Constitution as well as conduct investigations in accordance with their promulgated manuals including the Ethical Doctrine Manual.

On August 16, 2018, Vivian learned that her estranged husband, Eldie Labinghisa, was among the seven alleged members of the New People’s Army (NPA) who were gunned down by the PNP in Barangay Atabay, San Jose, Antique. When she went to the funeral home to verify the news of her husband’s death, police officers stationed there took her photos without her permission. Fearing what the officers had done, she left without being able to see or identify her husband’s body. The following day, Vivian went back to the funeral home, where she was confronted by three police officers who threatened to apprehend and charge her with obstruction of justice if she refused to answer their questions. Again fearing for her safety, Vivian hurried home without confirming the identity of her husband’s body. Later that day, two police officers went to Vivian’s house and showed her a photo of a cadaver. She confirmed the dead body as Labinghisa. In the following days, Vivian noticed the frequent drive-bys of a police car in front of her house and a vehicle tailed her and her family when they went to Iloilo to attend her husband’s wake. She also noticed someone shadowing her when she was outside her house, causing her to fear for her and her children’s safety.

In deciding whether or not Vivian was able to prove with substantial evidence her entitlement to the privilege of a writ of amparo, the SC found that the totality of Vivian’s evidence undoubtedly showed that she became a person of interest after she had first visited the funeral home, where her photo was taken. Police Officer 2 Nerissa A. De la Cruz tried to downplay the situation by claiming that Vivian’s photo was not “posted” in the police station, but she likewise did not deny telling Vivian that she saw the latter’s photo at the police station. The SC thus said that “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 SC also pointed out that Vivian and her 15-year old daughter, Scarlet, categorically stated that police cars have driven by their house with alarming regularity after Vivian had identified her husband’s body. To this, respondent, Police Superintendent Marc Anthony D. Darroca, only issued a blanket denial that he did not direct his officers to tail or monitor Vivian and her family. He did not even present affidavits from his police officers to support his claim. Further, Vivian’s report of being tailed by a vehicle only merited a perfunctory request from the police to the Land Transportation Office. “The police, which had better resources to perform the investigation, should have done more to follow up her request. Their failure to exert the extraordinary diligence expected of them hints at a motive against her and her family.”

Moreover, respondent police officers tried to paint Vivian’s claims as the ramblings of a paranoid and overly suspicious person, but the Court underscored that even her daughter, Scarlet, confirmed the numerous times the police drove by their house and being tailed whenever they set foot outside their house. The SC thus concluded that this shows that Vivian was not merely imagining 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 stressed.

As the widow of Labinghisa, the Court considered Vivian’s apprehension at being targeted as a suspected member of the NPA as palpable and understandable, causing her to “act suspiciously” as claimed by the respondent police officers, who subjected her to threats and accusations.

The SC also highlighted that the drive-bys and the tailings intensified after Vivian had identified her husband, belying Police Superintendent Darroca’s assertion that their investigation was innocuous.

On August 24, 2018, Vivian filed before the RTC of San Jose, Antique a Petition for writ of amparo against Police Superintendent Darroca, Police Superintendent Leo Irwin D. Agpangan, Police Chief Superintendent John C. Bulalacao, and the police officers under their authority. She alleged that the police officers’ constant surveillance of her and her family made them fear for their safety and prevented them from going out of their house. She pointed out that if the conduct of surveillance and monitoring was for her and her family’s safety, then the police should have informed them of it beforehand.

The RTC issued the writ of amparo and a temporary protection order on August 28, 2018. It also directed the members of the PNP to file a verified written return. The police officers denied violating or threatening to violate Vivian and her family’s right to life, liberty, and security. They stressed that Vivian’s allegations were grounded on “baseless assumptions, hearsay, mistaken belief, speculations, impressions, and feelings.”

After a summary hearing was conducted, the RTC dismissed the Petition for a writ of amparo on September 13, 2018. It held that Vivian failed to substantiate her assertion that she became a person of interest to the police after she had identified her husband’s dead body. This was because she was unable to specifically allege the police officers’ acts or the acts they sanctioned which threatened her security and liberty. Vivian then filed this Petition for Review on Certiorari with the Supreme Court assailing the RTC’s denial of her Petition for a writ of amparo.

Associate Justice Ramon Paul L. Hernando wrote a 13-page dissenting opinion, which was joined by Associate Justices Andres B. Reyes, Jr., Alexander G. Gesmundo, Rosmari D. Carandang, and Rodil V. Zalameda.

(G.R. No. 242257, In the matter of Petition for Writ of Amparo of Vivian A. Sanchez vs. PSupt. Marc Anthony D. Darroca, et al., October 15, 2019)

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