Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno lectures on human rights

and the writ of habeas data


UP Diliman Campus


March 12, 2008




Chief Justice Reynato Puno discussed human rights and the remedy of habeas data in a forum at UP Diliman organized by the National Union of Peoples' Lawyers (NUPL) and attended by lawyers, law students, human rights groups, embassy representatives and the media.

An open forum followed where questions on the writ of habeas data, human rights and other relevant issues currently plaguing the country were discussed.








The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers condemns the Executive Department’s persistent efforts to subvert the Constitution and the laws it has sworn to uphold. The refusal of the PNP to attend the Senate investigation, the belated Ombudsman investigation and the threats of harassment suits against witness Jun Lozada are nothing more than attempts to undermine the Senate investigation into the ZTE-NBN corruption scandal. These orchestrated acts by top government officials loyal to Pres. Gloria Arroyo, however, only adds more credence to the evidence which show that those responsible for acts of corruption in the ZTE transaction is not only limited to former Comelec Chairman Benjamin Abalos but actually involve Pres. Gloria Arroyo and her husband Atty. Mike Arroyo.

PNP Officers criminally and administratively liable

The refusal of PNP officers to attend Senate hearings ostensibly because “the PNP cannot discuss the matter publicly in order not to interfere with due process” citing the complaint for obstruction of justice filed with the Ombudsman is not only an open defiance of congressional authority but also violates the PNP officers’ oath under Sec. 40 of the Administrative Code of 1987, requiring all public officials to “ obey the laws, legal orders and decrees promulgated by the duly constituted authorities”. The NUPL finds it incomprehensible how “publicly discussing the matter” before the Senate can violate due process rights considering that the Senate is an official investigation and not a symposium. Furthermore, the PNP can always ask for executive session if they feel that their statements may violate due process rights. Based on this theory, Gen. Razon and his subordinates, are henceforth, precluded from giving media interviews on the Lozada kidnapping.

The filing of a petition asking the Supreme Court to legalize the non attendance of Gen. Avelino Razon and his subordinates has no legal or constitutional basis. Gen. Razon and his subordinates cannot claim the right to self incrimination as the basis for their non attendance because the Supreme Court expressly prohibited this insidious scheme to preempt congressional investigations in Sabio vs Gordon [GR 184340, October 2006], to wit:

Anent the right against self-incrimination, it must be emphasized that this right may be invoked x x x only when the incriminating question is being asked, since they have no way of knowing in advance the nature or effect of the questions to be asked of them.” That this right may possibly be violated or abused is no ground for denying respondent Senate Committees their power of inquiry.

Furthermore, Sec. 19 of the Senate rules expressly prohibit ‘preemptive’ claim to self-incrimination :
Sec. 19. Privilege Against Self-Incrimination
A witness can invoke his right against self-incrimination only when a question tends to elicit an answer that will incriminate him is propounded to him. x x x No person can refuse to testify or be placed under oath or affirmation or answer questions before an incriminatory question is asked. His invocation of such right does not by itself excuse him from his duty to give testimony.

In such a case, the Committee, by a majority vote of the members present there being a quorum, shall determine whether the right has been properly invoked. If the Committee decides otherwise, it shall resume its investigation and the question or questions previously refused to be answered shall be repeated to the witness. If the latter continues to refuse to answer the question, the Committee may punish him for contempt for contumacious conduct.

This blatant disregard of the Senate’s authority to conduct investigation is another attempt to preempt the investigation and subvert the search for the truth behind the ZTE scandal. This makes all the respondents subject to criminal and administrative charges that may be filed after Pres. Gloria Arroyo ceases to be President on or before 2010. Absent a TRO from the Supreme Court, Gen. Razon has no recourse but to attend the Senate hearing on February 26.

DOJ Fact Finding

The NUPL also condemns Pres. Arroyo’s continuing misuse of the Department of Justice through her Justice Secretary. The threats publicly aired by Sec. Raul Gonzalez of DOJ plans to investigate ZTE witness Jun Lozada’s finances and file criminal cases against his brothers and sisters for perjury not only smacks of harassment but also a not so veiled attempt to silence Mr. Lozada.

The arrogance implied by Sec. Gonzalez’ threats against a lowly public official in Mr. Lozada is matched by his cowardice to investigate the involvement of FG Mike Arroyo and Chairman Abalos in the ZTE deal and other anomalies. After Sec. Neri charged, under oath in an official congressional investigation, Chairman Abalos of bribery, the voluble Justice Secretary did not found the charges worth investigating. The DOJ cannot make investigations which would pre judge the exercise of its official function of conducting preliminary investigation if criminal complaints are filed against any party involved in the ZTE corruption scandal. Furthermore, the Justice Secretary has constantly expressed his loyalty and fealty to Pres. Arroyo and his biased views against Mr. Lozada and those that seek to reveal the truth behind the corruption charges against Pres. Arroyo disqualifying his department from conducting investigation.

Ombdusman Investigation a diversionary circus

The Ombudsman investigation is another such attempt to confuse the people and divert the attention from the Senate investigation. The Ombudsman is required under Sec. 15 (1) of RA 6670 to :

1) Investigate and prosecute on its own or on complaint by any person, any act or omission of any public officer or employee, office or agency, when such act or omission appears to be illegal, unjust, improper or inefficient. It has primary jurisdiction over cases cognizable by the Sandiganbayan x x x

The ZTE contract was cancelled or suspended by Pres. Gloria Arroyo because of the irregularities—a clear admission that corruption may have taken place. Under the law, the Ombudsman should have acted as early as last year, on its own, because the scrapped contract ‘appear’ illegal or at the very least, improper.

The Ombudsman has constantly refused to investigate such a blatant display of corruption and overpricing despite the admission by Pres. Arroyo of the irregularities involved. The Ombudsman has in fact, disregarded the statement of a Cabinet member, Sec. Romulo Neri, that he was bribed by Chairman Abalos, a clear sign of the biased exercise by Ombudsman Merceditas Guttierez of her functions as a supposed independent Ombudsman. Guttierez can be found guilty in an impeachment proceeding if only for this inefficiency. The attempt of the Ombudsman, which has not seriously acted on the Fertilizer Scam case and Jocjoc Bolante for years, to intervene only now when the ZTE issue is generating interest and after the tenth complaint was filed, shows its utter lack of respect to its own mandate and task under the law and the Constitution.

NUPL demands of Pres. Arroyo to desist from using her office and those of her subordinates in preempting serious investigations on the ZTE deal precisely because she and her family are the ones being charged with corruption in the said issue. This is not only required by the Anti graft and corrupt Practices Act but by the principle of delicadeza, the unwritten law governing ethical actions of public officials. Pres. Arroyo is not only accountable for her acts but is also accountable for all the violation of the Constitution and the laws committed by her subordinates to illegally protect her from congressional investigations.

Reference Person : Atty. Neri Javier Colmenares-Secretary General
Date : February 24, 2008

Download statement


Other NUPL statements:

■   Spratlys agreement unconstitutional: joint marine seismic undertaking is void

■   Mindanao lawyers, law students, paralegals:Oust Gloria Now! Uphold the Rule of Law and the People's Sovereign Will!

■   Lawyers condemn use of legal processes to cover up crimes: Bringing the issue to the coursts is a legal trap

■   Lawyers condem abuse of executive privilege: Sec. Neri liable for perjury if he lies in Senate investion

■   Issuance of Arrest Warrants for Sec. Neri and Mr. Lozada a legitimate exercise of the Senate’s constitutional powers: Compelling the of FG Mike Arroyo on pain of contempt also urged

■   Cabinet members involved in the Lozada abduction criminally liable


L-R: Atty. Romeo T. Capulong, NUPL Chair; Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno;

 and, Atty. Frederico Gapuz, NUPL President

Atty. Romeo T. Capulong, NUPL Chairman
Atty. Frederico Gapuz, NUPL President

Atty. Neri Javier Colmenares, NUPL Secretary-General


Primer on Writ of Habeas Data by Atty. Colmenares

Rule on the Writ of Habeas Data

Lawyers' response at the NUPL forum on haabeas data

Atty. Rachel F. Pastores, NULP Deputy Secretary-General
Fr. Diony Cabillas, KARAPATAN



During the next half year, it became clear that American and Filipino visions for the islands’ future were at odds. U.S. forces seized Manila from Spain—keeping the army of their ostensible ally Aguinaldo from entering the city—and President William McKinley refused to recognize Filipino claims to independence, pushing his negotiators to demand that Spain cede sovereignty over the islands to the United States, while talking about Filipinos’ need for “benevolent assimilation.” Aguinaldo and some of his advisers, who had been inspired by the United States as a model republic and had greeted its soldiers as liberators, became increasingly suspicious of American motivations. When, after a period of mounting tensions, a U.S. sentry fired on Filipino soldiers outside Manila in February, 1899, the second war erupted, just days before the Senate ratified a treaty with Spain securing American sovereignty over the islands in exchange for twenty million dollars. In the next three years, U.S. troops waged a war to “free” the islands’ population from the regime that Aguinaldo had established. The conflict cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of Filipinos and about four thousand U.S. soldiers.


Within the first year of the war, news of atrocities by U.S. forces—the torching of villages, the killing of prisoners—began to appear in American newspapers. Although the U.S. military censored outgoing cables, stories crossed the Pacific through the mail, which wasn’t censored. Soldiers, in their letters home, wrote about extreme violence against Filipinos, alongside complaints about the weather, the food, and their officers; and some of these letters were published in home-town newspapers. A letter by A. F. Miller, of the 32nd Volunteer Infantry Regiment, published in the Omaha World-Herald in May, 1900, told of how Miller’s unit uncovered hidden weapons by subjecting a prisoner to what he and others called the “water cure.” “Now, this is the way we give them the water cure,” he explained. “Lay them on their backs, a man standing on each hand and each foot, then put a round stick in the mouth and pour a pail of water in the mouth and nose, and if they don’t give up pour in another pail. They swell up like toads. I’ll tell you it is a terrible torture.”


On occasion, someone—a local antiwar activist, one suspects—forwarded these clippings to centers of anti-imperialist publishing in the Northeast. But the war’s critics were at first hesitant to do much with them: they were hard to substantiate, and they would, it was felt, subject the publishers to charges of anti-Americanism. This was especially true as the politics of imperialism became entangled in the 1900 Presidential campaign. As the Democratic candidate, William Jennings Bryan, clashed with the Republican incumbent over imperialism, which the Democrats called “the paramount issue,” critics of the war had to defend themselves against accusations of having treasonously inspired the insurgency, prolonged the conflict, and betrayed American soldiers. But, after McKinley won a second term, the critics may have felt that they had little to lose.


Download and read the complete article here




A picture of a “water detail,” reportedly taken in May, 1901, in Sual, the Philippines. “It is a terrible torture,” one soldier wrote.




Annals of American History

The Water Cure

Debating torture and counterinsurgency—a century ago.

by Paul Kramer


Many Americans were puzzled by the news, in 1902, that United States soldiers were torturing Filipinos with water. The United States, throughout its emergence as a world power, had spoken the language of liberation, rescue, and freedom. This was the language that, when coupled with expanding military and commercial ambitions, had helped launch two very different wars. The first had been in 1898, against Spain, whose remaining empire was crumbling in the face of popular revolts in two of its colonies, Cuba and the Philippines. The brief campaign was pitched to the American public in terms of freedom and national honor (the U.S.S. Maine had blown up mysteriously in Havana Harbor), rather than of sugar and naval bases, and resulted in a formally independent Cuba.


The Americans were not done liberating. Rising trade in East Asia suggested to imperialists that the Philippines, Spain’s largest colony, might serve as an effective “stepping stone” to China’s markets. U.S. naval plans included provisions for an attack on the Spanish Navy in the event of war, and led to a decisive victory against the Spanish fleet at Manila Bay in May, 1898. Shortly afterward, Commodore George Dewey returned the exiled Filipino revolutionary Emilio Aguinaldo to the islands. Aguinaldo defeated Spanish forces on land, declared the Philippines independent in June, and organized a government led by the Philippine élite.




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