Supreme Court bans PNP surveillance on communist rebel's family

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 27) – The Supreme Court has banned members of the Philippine National Police from conducting surveillance on the family of an alleged member of the New People's Army who was gunned down by authorities in 2018.

The court issued a permanent protection order under the writ of amparo in favor of Vivian Sanchez, the widow of Eldie Labinghisa, one of seven supposed communist rebels killed by the PNP in Barangay Atabay, San Jose in Antique in August 2018.

The 19-page decision written by Associate Justice Marvic Mario Victor Leonen also covers Sanchez's two children.

Upon learning of Labinghisa's death, Sanchez claimed that she was unable to identify her husband's body at a funeral home out of fear because police officers stationed there took photos of her without permission.

"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," the court said.

It also cited the claims of Sanchez and her 15-year-old daughter that police cars have driven by their house "with alarming regularity" after Sanchez identified her husband's body.

"Before this Court, petitioner contends that she was able to prove with substantial evidence that she and her children were under constant police surveillance and monitoring, whidh constitutes a clear violation of their right to life, liberty, and security," the court added.

Sanchez filed a petition for the writ of amparo at the San Jose Regional Trial Court against Police Superintendents Marc Anthony Darroca and Leo Irwin D. Agpangan, Police Chief Superintendent John C. Bulalacao, and police officers under their authority.

The police officers denied any violations against Sanchez and stressed that her allegations were grounded on “baseless assumptions, hearsay, mistaken belief, speculations, impressions, and feelings.” The court then dismissed Sanchez's petition, prompting her to take the issue to the high court.

Siding with Sanchez, the high court said: "In a patriarchal society where women have had to calibrate their responses toward men, the additional layer of power presented by a man in uniform would lead even an innocent civilian, especially a woman, to act jittery and nervously, trying to find a way to protect herself from perceived vulnerabilities."

It also called on the PNP to enjoin its police officers to "respect human dignity and human rights, and to judiciously use their authority in the performance of duty" as the treatment of Sanchez "does not reflect the professional and courteous image" that it wishes to convey as an institution.

"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 of interest. After all, the values we have in our Constitution are what differentiate us from lawless elements," the court said.