UPDATE (Philippines): A Davao court denies a lawyer and target’s petition for judicial protection


Urgent Appeal Case: AHRC-UAU-022-2009
ISSUES: Human rights defenders, Threats and intimidation,

Dear friends, 

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) deeply regrets to inform you that a Regional Trial Court (RTC) in Davao City, southern Mindanao, has denied a human rights lawyer temporary judicial protection via a Writ of Amparo petition. The court ruled that he failed to prove ‘by substantial evidence’ that the inclusion of his name in an ‘Order of Battle’ – one reportedly made by the military to target people and groups with communist sympathies – poses a threat to his life. This contradicts a recent UN report which notes that many civil society activists in the Philippines are being extra-judicially killed simply for their perceived association with leftists groups


In a previous appeal (UAU-013-2009) we mentioned that Carlos Zarate, secretary general of the Union of People’s Lawyer in Mindanao (UPLM), sought protection via a Writ of Amparo on June 16, 2009, as did two of his colleagues, Angela Librado-Trinidad and Lilibeth Ladaga. 

In his petition, Zarate argued that the ‘mere inclusion of the petitioner’s name in the said Order of Battle is not only putting his life in danger, but a clear threat as well to his liberty and security, including that of his family’. The Order (in a PowerPoint presentation) also ‘clearly show that the names listed therein have been branded as ‘enemies of the state”. 

Zarate’s concern for his and his family’s security and liberty was prompted by the murder of Celso Pojas, a peasant activist, on May 2008 – a man whose name also appeared in the list. Other lawyers included in the list (which names 105 people, among them lawyers, journalists, human rights and political activists, physicians, union leaders and religious leaders in Davao City) have been receiving continuous threats. 

However Judge Jose Manuel Castillo of the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 10, ruled that the petitioner failed to prove ‘by substantial evidence, that indeed, his perceived threat to his life, liberty and security is attributable to the unlawful act or omission of the respondents’. He also declared that there was not enough to link Celso Pojas’ murder with the target list. 

Judge Castillo has also argued that even if Satur Ocampo – the member of the House of Representatives who first received the leaked presentation – testified in court, his testimony would be ’empty’ if he could not testify alongside his anonymous source. It would be concluded that he ‘he has no direct or personal knowledge about the authenticity of the subject ‘OB List’, hence, whatever he says about it is hearsay.’ 

This line of reasoning rejects observations of United Nations Special Rapporteur Philip Alston in his report last year (16 April) that stated: ‘Human rights defenders and trade unionists, along with many other civil society leaders, appear to be killed due more to their association with leftist groups than to their particular activities’. Those listed in the OB are accused of collusion with communists. Zarate has since filed a motion asking the same court to reconsider his ruling. 


The AHRC has expressed its deep concern about the standards being used by the court in denying Zarate’s petition. Here is a case in which a petitioner under threat is being asked to investigate and prove the precariousness of his position, before being granted any kind of judicial protection. 

Foremostly, when the Writ of Amparo was promulgated in September 2007 it was not as a form of criminal action, and ‘proof beyond reasonable doubt’ should therefore not be required. Demanding this kind of evidence is to equate it to a criminal trial. 

Accordingly, in Zarate’s petition the court has argued that testimony from the anonymous ‘conscientious soldier’ who leaked the PowerPoint presentation and its military origins ‘could have possibly put the petitioner’s position in a better light’. But for the court to require Zarate to produce the ‘conscientious soldier’ is impractical. This interpretation of the ‘substance’ of the evidence has undermined if not defeated the purpose of the Writ of Amparo, by weighing it as though it were a criminal trial. 

Interestingly, similar reasoning was used in the criminal trial of the Abadilla Five – innocent men dealt a death sentence for murder – when evidence from a third absent party which could exonerate them was rejected (see various former appeals and statements: UA-182-2007UAU-029-2008OLT-002-2009). The court argued that unless the person appeared in court and handed in the evidence himself it could not be admitted. Even in this criminal case it was an impractical demand; the person who had personal knowledge of the Colonel’s murder was part of the illegal armed group who had committed it. He was later killed. 

Finally, despite suggesting that the anonymous soldier testify in Zarate’s petition, no mention was made of ensuring his or her safety. To have this person come forward would itself require a separate Writ of Amparo petition – either that or they would need to be covered by the Witness Protection Security and Benefit Act. Therefore, to require the ‘conscientious soldier’ to appear in court is not practical. 


Please write to the concerned authorities, particularly to the court hearing the case, and raise your concerns on this ruling. The court should review the argument of the petitioner and comply with the main purpose of the Writ of Amparo. 

The AHRC has written letters to the UN Special Rapporteurs for human rights defenders and for extra-judicial, summary, or arbitrary executions. 

To support this case, please click here: SEND APPEAL LETTER


Dear ________, 

PHILIPPINES: A Davao court denies a lawyer and target’s petition for judicial protection 

Name of the lawyer: Carlos Zarate, secretary general of the Union of People’s Lawyer in Mindanao (UPLM). 
Status of his petition: Regional Trial Court Judge Jose Manuel Castillo of the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Branch 10, denied Zarate’s Writ of Amparo petition on August 15, 2009. The petitioner has filed another petition asking the court to reconsider his decision. 

I am writing to express my deep concern at the denial of temporary judicial protection for human rights lawyer Carlos Zarate by the Regional Trial Court (RTC) in Davao City. 

Zarate and his two colleagues, Librado-Trinidad and Lilibeth Ladaga, filed their individual Writ of Amparo petitions on June 16, 2009. The writ is a temporary judicial protection which the Supreme Court (SC) of the Philippines promulgated on September 2007 for persons whose life, liberty and security are threatened; the lawyers filed their petition after learning that they were included in the ‘Order of Battle’ of May 2009. This Order includes a list of 105 persons, most of them human rights defenders in Davao City, and suggests their involvement in communist activities. It is widely believed to have been created by the military. 

United Nations Special Rapporteur Philip Alston in his report dated 16 April 2008 stated: ‘Human rights defenders and trade unionists, along with many other civil society leaders, appear to be killed due more to their association with leftist groups than to their particular activities’. 

Zarate has sought temporary judicial protection for himself and his family, and for the military establishment to produce the documents relating to him. He has noted that another person named in the list – peasant activist Celso Pojas – has already been murdered, and that others named have been receiving continual threats. Zarate and his two fellow petitioners endure continual intimdation as human rights lawyers. 

The court, in denying Zarate’s petition, argued that he ‘failed to prove, by substantial evidence’ that there are threats to his life, liberty and security. Even testimony from the first person to receive the leaked Order, would be considered ‘hearsay’ and ’empty’ which effectively prevents any chance of the origin of the document being investigated. 

Though the court has implied that the testimony of the source him or herself may affect this verdict, they have offered no arrangements to ensure their safety. 

It is unfortunate that the court, in its standards of evidence, is considering the petition as if it were a criminal trial. This was not the purpose of the Writ of Amparo when it was promulgated, and unless the court reviews these standards, it is defeating the point of the writ and depriving all future persons who seek protection. I consider it impractical and alarming that such a burden of proof is placed upon victims whose lives are in danger. 

I therefore urge you to use your authority to intervene in this case. 

Yours sincerely, 


1. Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo 
Republic of the Philippines 
Malacanang Palace 
JP Laurel Street, San Miguel 
Manila 1005 
Fax: +63 2 736 1010 
Tel: +63 2 735 6201 / 564 1451 to 80 

2. Ms. Leila De Lima 
Commission on Human Rights 
SAAC Bldg., Commonwealth Avenue 
U.P. Complex, Diliman 
Quezon City 
Fax: +63 2 929 0102 
Tel: +63 2 928 5655 / 926 6188 
E-mail: mtm_rodulfo@yahoo.com 

3. Deputy Director General Jesus A. Verzosa 
Chief, Philippine National Police (PNP) 
Camp General Rafael Crame 
Quezon City 
Fax: +63 2724 8763 
Tel: +63 2 726 4361/4366/8763 
E-mail: ruth_cossid@yahoo.com 

4. Ms. Agnes Devanadera 
Department of Justice (DoJ) 
DOJ Bldg., Padre Faura 
1004 Manila 
Fax: +63 2 521 1614 
E-mail: raulgonzalez_doj@yahoo.com 

5. Lieutenant General Victor S. Ibrado 
Chief of Staff 
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) 
AFP-GHQ Offices, Camp Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo 
Quezon City 
Fax: +63 2 911 6436 
Tel: +63 2 911 6001 to 50 

6. Justice Reynato S. Puno 
Chief Justice 
Supreme Court of the Philippines 
New Supreme Court Building Annex Padre Faura St., Ermita, 
1000 Manila 

Thank you. 

Urgent Appeals Programme 
Asian Human Rights Commission (ua@ahrc.asia) 

Document Type : Urgent Appeal Update
Document ID : AHRC-UAU-022-2009
Countries : Philippines,
Issues : Human rights defenders, Threats and intimidation,