SC to issue rules on use of body cameras in serving warrants

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 16) — The Supreme Court is coming up with guidelines on the use of body cameras by law enforcers serving arrest or search warrants, its spokesperson announced on Tuesday.

In a statement, the 15-member high court said it “considered a proposal to require the use of body cameras for law enforcers who will execute warrants to be issued by the trial courts.”

Supreme Court spokesperson Brian Hosaka clarified that the justices in an en banc session already “approved the use of body cameras in the service of warrants but subject to the actual guidelines as may be set in the formal resolution to be issued by the Court.”

Calls for the police to wear body cameras started in 2017, after the killing 17-year-old Kian delos Santos and 19-year-old Carl Arnaiz heightened public outrage against the drug war. A ₱334 million budget was later approved. Purchase of the equipment was still "in process" as of December 2020, the Philippine National Police said, prompting some opposition lawmakers to call for an investigation into the delayed implementation.

A highly placed source in the Supreme Court told CNN Philippines that the use of body cameras was tackled on Tuesday's en banc meeting in the wake of the killings of nine activists on the so-called "Bloody Sunday" last March 7.

The police said these were all legitimate “search warrant operations” in the Calabarzon region, but activist groups questioned why the orders were issued by courts in Metro Manila which they have tagged “search warrant factories.”

In a report sent to Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta on March 12, Court Administrator Jose Midas Marquez explained that the Regional Trial Court of Manila received 63 applications for search warrants on March 1, to be served in different areas in Calabarzon. It was an “unusually large” number of applications, Marquez said, so the Executive Judge of the Manila RTC was allowed to distribute it to himself and his three Vice Executive Judges.

In the end, 42 applications were granted, 19 denied, two withdrawn. Nine applications were also filed in Antipolo, Marquez relayed, of which four were granted, four were denied, while one was pending as of March 12.

The service of some of these warrants from the capital region and Antipolo courts resulted in the deadly operations.

“It must be noted, however, that the issuance of the search warrants by the judges and their service or implementation by the law enforcers are two different acts,” Marquez said.

He said that based on court guidelines, the judges of Manila and Quezon City have authority to act on applications filed by the National Bureau of Investigation, PNP and Anti-Crime Task Force, Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, and Bureau of Customs, for search warrants involving heinous crimes, illegal gambling, and illegal possession of firearms and ammunitions, as well as violations of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act, Anti-Money Laundering Act, Tariff and Customs Code, and the Securities Regulation Code.

Former Bayan Muna representative Neri Colmenares earlier told CNN Philippines’ The Source that the high court should review the “questionable” rule allowing courts to issue arrest warrants in areas outside of their jurisdiction, noting that judges in Metro Manila would usually make the call for distant provinces.

However, two magistrates applying for the Chief Justice post to be vacated by Peralta once he retires this month, said there’s nothing wrong with the current process. The judges only have to conduct an examination and issue warrants based on evidence, they added.