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Cablegate: Philippine Judiciary Seeks Better Handling Of

VZCZCXRO4634
OO RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM
DE RUEHML #2120 1760828
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 250828Z JUN 07
FM AMEMBASSY MANILA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 7119
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS IMMEDIATE
RHHMUNA/CDRUSPACOM HONOLULU HI IMMEDIATE
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC IMMEDIATE

UNCLAS MANILA 002120

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PREL RP
SUBJECT: PHILIPPINE JUDICIARY SEEKS BETTER HANDLING OF
UNLAWFUL KILLING CASES

REF: A. MANILA 1704
B. MANILA 1702

1. (SBU) Philippine Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato
Puno has announced plans to convene a "summit" on July 16-17
primarily to examine ways to ensure more expeditious and
effective processing of cases of unlawful or extrajudicial
killings, notably those in which "state agents" may be
culprits. Supreme Court Program Director Evelyn
Toledo-Dumdum explained to Pol/C on June 25 that the "summit"
will include representatives from the judiciary, Congress,
and the Administration, especially representatives from the
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Philippine National
Police (PNP), Department of Interior and Local Government,
Department of Justice, and Commission on Human Rights. The
Chief Justice also plans to invite key leaders of civil
society and NGOs as well as representatives from the media
and interested donor Embassies.

2. (SBU) According to Toledo-Dumdum, the Chief Justice is
seeking "input to the Court that will be helpful in crafting
additional procedures to enforce and protect civil and human
rights" and, as such, has a broader goal than only
prosecuting unlawful killings. She underscored, however,
that potential reforms of the rules of court or rules of
evidence that the Chief Justice might welcome would
specifically benefit the handling of these cases in
particular, but she acknowledged some reforms might require
legislative action. Such reforms may include simplified
procedures for the speedy disposition of cases, issuing
"protective orders for witnesses" in cases of unlawful
killings, and holding the AFP in contempt of court if it
fails to produce -- or at least to report on efforts to
locate -- missing individuals about whom a court had issued
a writ of habeas corpus. Chief Justice Puno has publicly
described extrajudicial killings as "an assault on the rule
of law" and an "indictment of the judicial system."

3. (SBU) Toledo-Dumdum provided a copy of the March 1
Supreme Court Administrative Order No. 25-2007 that
designated specific Regional Trial Courts to "hear, try and
decide cases involving killings of political activists and
members of the media." More significantly, the Order
mandated continuous trials for cases involving such killings,
and required that the courts conclude the trials within 60
days and issue judgments within 30 days thereafter. The
Order also specified that "no postponement or continuance
shall be allowed except for clearly meritorious reasons," and
warned that "pleadings or motions found to have been filed
for dilatory purposes shall constitute direct contempt and
shall be punished accordingly."

4. (SBU) In a preliminary list of pending cases "regarding
extra-judicial killings of political ideologists and members
of the media" dated February 16, Court Administrator
Christopher Lock identified 33 different ongoing cases, while
indicating that, in many of cases, the accused remained at
large. Despite a requirement under the March 1 Order for
monthly updates on these cases, the Court Administrator has
not yet prepared a follow-on to the February 16 report,
however. Under the terms of the Order's requirement for
60-day trials, at least some of these trials may now have
concluded. Toledo-Dumdum promised that the Court would
provide an update within a week and would seek to ensure full
compliance with the terms of the ambitious Administrative
Order. She lamented, however, that the judicial system still
had a vacancy rate for judges of about 26 pct -- albeit down
from 33 pct in recent years -- and received less than one
percent of the national budget for operating expenses.

5. (SBU) Comment: The overloaded Philippine judicial
system -- which the Supreme Court administers nationwide,
unlike its U.S. counterpart -- remains imperfectly equipped
to process cases of unlawful killings expeditiously.
Furthermore, its success in reaching convictions has in the
past sometimes been due to weak cases prepared by the
prosecutors. A proposed new Executive Order mandating
police/prosecutor cooperation from the outset of a crime, as
well as the practical training on such cooperation described
U.S. experts in a recent INL-funded, Embassy-organized
seminar for Philippine participants (ref a), should help to
alleviate some but not all of these problems. The Chief
Justice's determination to ensure that the courts do a better
job in handling such cases is welcome, but even his latest
efforts will take time to implement comprehensively.

Visit Embassy Manila's Classified website:
http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/eap/manila/index. cfm
KENNEY

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