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In 2016, the government rolled out Oplan Double Barrel consisting of Oplan Tokhang and Project High Value Target/Low Value Target. These were operations by the PNP under the Duterte Administration’s Anti-Illegal Drug Campaign. This resulted in the surrender of about 500k drug users, almost 50k drug pushers, and the apprehension of thousands of drug personalities. Unfortunately, there was also a spike in drug-related deaths and allegedly, State agents were involved in these deaths.
Allegedly, the number of deaths being divulged by the PNP is less than the actual deaths hence, Atty. Anna May Baquirin and other members of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines filed before the Supreme Court a Petition for Mandamus with prayer for issuance of a Continuing Mandamus against then PNP Chief Ronald Dela Rosa, then Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre, and then CHR Chair, Jose Luis Martin Gascon. Baquirin et al alleged that Dela Rosa et al have failed to adequately perform their duty to prevent violations of the right to life and to investigate and prosecute the same under the Constitution, pertinent laws, and human rights treaties to which the Philippines is a party.
Anent the prayer for the issuance of a writ of continuing mandamus, Baquirin et al is praying for the Supreme Court to direct the PNP, the DOJ, and the CHR to submit periodic report to the Court as to their compliance with their functions.
ISSUE: Whether or not the petition is valid.
HELD: No. A writ of mandamus is a remedy granted by law when any tribunal, corporation, board, officer, or person unlawfully neglects the performance of an act which the law specifically enjoins as a duty resulting from an office, trust, or station, or unlawfully excludes another from the use or enjoyment of a right or office to which such other is entitled. It has been recognized as an appropriate remedy to raise constitutional issues and to review and/or prohibit or nullify, when proper, acts of legislative and executive officials.
For such writ to be issued in a case alleging an officer’s neglect of duty, as in this case, a concurrence between a clear legal right accruing to the petitioner and a correlative duty incumbent upon the respondent to perform an act, this duty being imposed upon them by law, is required. The respondent must likewise be shown to have actually neglected to perform the act mandated by law. This duty must likewise be ministerial, rather than discretionary in nature, because courts cannot subvert legally vested authority on the respondent to exercise discretion. A mandamus petition will also not prosper unless it is shown that there is no other plain, speedy, and adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law.
In this case, the duties of the PNP, DOJ, and CHR being sought to be compelled are not mere ministerial duties. They are discretionary.
In fact, on the part of CHR, it was able to show that it has conducted investigations on alleged deaths which occurred as a result of the Drug War.
Baquirin et al admitted that they bypassed the lower courts and went immediately to the Supreme Court, thus violating the principle of hierarchy of courts, however, they invoked that due to the transcendental importance of the issue at hand and that the anti-illegal drug operations have reportedly resulted in an unprecedented number of deaths nationwide, many allegedly in the hands of the police, then resort to the highest court of the land is proper. This is not tenable.
The doctrine of transcendental importance warranting the relaxation of the rule on the hierarchy of courts may only be invoked if:
(a) there is a clear or imminent threat to fundamental rights;
(b) the presence of a clear case of disregard of a constitutional or statutory prohibition by the public respondent agency or instrumentality of the government; and
(c) the lack of any other party with a more direct and specific interest in raising the questions being raised.
In this case, Baquirin et al failed to show any injury so great and so imminent on their part such that the Court cannot instead adjudicate the issues raised on the occasion of an appropriate case instituted by parties who suffer from direct, substantial, and material injury. They were likewise remiss in justifying their direct resort to the Court and their choice of remedy. On these issues alone, the Petition should be dismissed.
The Supreme Court also clarified that the writ of continuing mandamus is available only in environmental cases. Requiring the submission of periodic reports on the discharge of the respondents’ functions to the Court violates the fundamental doctrine of separation of powers, which serves to temper the official acts of each branch of the government.