SC Reiterates Permanent Protection Order Against PNP

October 9, 2021

The Supreme Court has denied the motion for reconsideration of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and reiterated the permanent protection order prohibiting the latter from monitoring or surveilling a family over their suspected association with the New People’s Army (NPA).

The Court granted on October 15, 2019 the Petition for a Writ of Amparo filed by Vivian A. Sanchez after the latter proved with substantial evidence that she and her two children became persons of interest and were put under surveillance because of her dead husband’s suspected affiliation with the NPA.

The Court held that petitioner substantiated her entitlement to the writ of amparo with the required substantial evidence. It said: “The totality of petitioner’s evidence convincingly shows that she and her family became subject of unwarranted police surveillance due to their relationship with a suspected member of the New People’s Army resulting in an actual threat to their life, liberty, and security due to the government’s unparalleled zeal in eradicating communism.”

The Court further held that respondents PNP are gravely mistaken in their assertion that “the right to privacy, gender and power analysis, are not applicable in the present case.”

The Court noted that petitioner was targeted because she initially  refused to divulge her relationship with her dead husband when she went to the funeral parlor. Respondents claim that she was only placed under general investigation because they wanted to know the identity of the unclaimed cadaver, but even after she had admitted to being the suspected member’s estranged wife, police surveillance continued and even intensified, causing her fear and anxiety for her and her children’s safety.

“Thus, in determining the existence of substantial evidence to support a petition for a wit of amparo, judges should also be cognizant of the different power dynamics at play when assessing if there is an actual or future threat to a petitioner’s life, security, or liberty,” said the Court. “Refusing to acknowledge this might lead to an outright denial of protection to those who need it the most.”

The Court held the right to privacy is a fundamental right, with the Constitution providing explicit limitations on unwarranted State intrusion into personal affairs. One’s right to privacy is not set aside because of their relationship with a person of interest or because they have become a person of interest.

“The continued drive against communists––with President Rodrigo Duterte even proclaiming that the New People’s Army posed a bigger threat than extremist groups––puts petitioner and her children in a precarious position, because while respondents deny surveilling petitioner and her children, they nonetheless admit that as the family members of a communist, they were proper subjects of investigation,” said the Court in the decision penned by Justice Marvic M.V.F. Leonen.

“While respondents have the mandate to investigate, their duty must be balanced with petitioner’s fundamental rights. Respondents must also take into account that petitioner and her children are not ordinary witnesses, as seen by the privileges of testimony and communication that they enjoy. Hence, petitioner’s relationship with her husband insulates her from any inquiries on his supposed communist activities. Whatever information respondents may have wished to obtain from petitioner or her children, as witting or unwitting witnesses, is protected by spousal and filial privilege,” it added.

Furthermore, the Court held that “if respondents wanted to investigate petitioner and her children, they should have conducted a formal investigation instead of a surreptitious surveillance, which not only infringed on petitioner’s right to privacy and her spousal privilege but was also an abuse of respondents’ authority as State agents.”

Justice Ramon Paul Hernando maintained his dissent and voted to grant the Motion for Reconsideration. He was joined by Chief Justice Alexander G. Gesmundo.

The respondents filed a Motion for Reconsideration and contended that “the right to privacy, as well as gender and power analysis, [is] not applicable in the present case. They also point out that the rules on marital privilege and disqualification only apply to judicial proceedings, not to investigations. Furthermore, they assert that a writ of amparo is confined to serious human rights violations––particularly, extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances––and that petitioner failed to present sufficient evidence to prove that she was entitled to the writ.

On August 16, 2018, Vivian learned that her estranged husband, Eldie Labinghisa, was among seven alleged NPA members 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.

(G.R. No. 242257, In the Matter of Petition for Writ of Amparo of Vivian A. Sanchez. Sanchez v. Darroca, June 15, 2021)