In A. M. No. 08-1-16-SC, dated January 22, 2008, the Philippine Supreme Court En Banc issued THE RULE ON THE WRIT OF HABEAS DATA, which will take effect on February 2, 2008. I will describe below its salient provisions, for the information of the readers and for purposes of legal research.
The writ of habeas data is a remedy “available to any person whose right to privacy in life, liberty or security is violated or threatened by an unlawful act or omission of a public official or employee, or of a private individual or entity engaged in the gathering, collecting or storing of data or information regarding the person, family, home and correspondence of the aggrieved party”. (Sec. 1).
The petition for the writ of habeas data may be filed by: “(a) Any member of the immediate family of the aggrieved party, namely: the spouse, children and parents; or (b) Any ascendant, descendant or collateral relative of the aggrieved party within the fourth civil degree of consanguinity or affinity, in default of those mentioned in the preceding paragraph.” (Sec. 2).
The venues thereof are: (a) the Regional Trial Court “where the petitioner or respondent resides, or that which has jurisdiction over the place where the data or information is gathered, collected or stored, at the option of the petitioner”; and (b) the Supreme Court or the Court of Appeals or the Sandiganbayan “when the action concerns public data files of government offices”. (Sec. 3).
When the writ of habeas data is issued by a Regional Trial Court, it shall be returnable before such court. When issued by the Court of Appeals or the Sandiganbayan, it may be returnable before such court, “or to any Regional Trial Court of the place where the petitioner or respondent resides, or that which has jurisdiction over the place where the data or information is gathered, collected or stored”. When issued by the Supreme Court, it may be returnable before such Court, “or before the Court of Appeals or the Sandiganbayan, x x x or to any Regional Trial Court of the place where the petitioner or respondent resides, or that which has jurisdiction over the place where the data or information is gathered, collected or stored”. (Sec. 4).
The writ shall be “enforceable anywhere in the Philippines”. (Sec. 4).
No docket and other lawful fees shall be required from an “indigent petitioner”. The petition of the indigent shall be docked and acted upon immediately, “without prejudice to subsequent submission of proof of indigency not later than fifteen (15) days from the filing of the petition”. (Sec. 5).
A verified written petition for a writ of habeas data should contain:
(a) The personal circumstances of the petitioner and the respondent;
(b) The manner the right to privacy is violated or threatened and how it affects the right to life, liberty or security of the aggrieved party;
(c) The actions and recourses taken by the petitioner to secure the data or information;
(d) The location of the files, registers or databases, the government office, and the person in charge, in possession or in control of the data or information, if known;
(e) The reliefs prayed for, “which may include the updating, rectification, suppression or destruction of the database or information or files kept by the respondent.” In case of threats, the relief may include a prayer for an order enjoining the act complained of; and
(f) Such other relevant reliefs as are just and equitable. (Sec. 6).
Upon the filing of the petition, the court, justice or judge shall “immediately order the issuance of the writ if on its face it ought to issue”. The writ shall set the date and time for “summary hearing of the petition” which shall not be later than ten (10) work days from the date of its issuance. (Sec. 7).
The respondent shall file a “verified written return together with supporting affidavits” within five (5) working days from service of the writ, which period may be reasonably extended by the Court for justifiable reasons. (Sec. 10).
The return shall, among other things, contain the following:
(a) The lawful defenses such as national security, state secrets, privileged communications, confidentiality of the source of information of media and others;
(b) In case of respondent in charge, in possession or in control of the data or information subject of the petition;
(i) a disclosure of the data or information about the petitioner, the nature of such data or information, and the purpose for its collection;
(ii) the steps or actions taken by the respondent to ensure the security and confidentiality of the data or information; and,
(iii) the currency and accuracy of the data or information held; and,
(c) Other allegations relevant to the resolution of the proceeding. (Id.)
A “general denial” of the allegations in the petition shall not be allowed. (Id.).
The court may punish with imprisonment or fine a respondent who commits contempt by making “a false return, or refusing to make a return; or any person who otherwise disobeys or resist a lawful process or order of the court”.
A hearing in chambers may be conducted where the respondent invokes the defense that the release of the data or information in question shall compromise “national security or state secrets, or when the data or information cannot be divulged to the public due to its nature or privileged character”. (Sec. 12).
The following pleadings and motions are prohibited by Sec. 13 of the Rule:
(a) Motion to dismiss;
(b) Motion for extension of time to file return, opposition, affidavit, position paper and other pleadings;
(c) Dilatory motion for postponement;
(d) Motion for a bill of particulars;
(e) Counterclaim or cross-claim;
(f) Third-party complaint;
(h) Motion to declare respondent in default;
(k) Motion for reconsideration of interlocutory orders or interim relief orders; and
(l) Petition for certiorari, mandamus or prohibition against any interlocutory order.
In case the respondent fails to file a return, the court, justice or judge shall proceed to hear the petition ex parte, granting the petitioner such relief as the petition may warrant unless the court in its discretion requires the petitioner to submit evidence. (Sec. 14).
The hearing on the petition shall be “summary”. However, the court “may call for a preliminary conference to simplify the issues and determine the possibility of obtaining stipulations and admissions from the parties”. (Sec. 15).
The court shall render judgment within ten (10) days from the time the petition is submitted for decision. The court may “enjoin the act complained of, or order the deletion, destruction, or rectification of the erroneous data or information and grant other relevant reliefs as may be just and equitable”. (Sec.16 ). Upon its finality, the judgment shall be enforced by the sheriff or any lawful officers as may be designated by the court, justice or judge within five (5) working days.
The officer who executed the final judgment shall, within three (3) days from its enforcement, make a verified return to the court.
The return shall contain “a full statement of the proceedings under the writ and a complete inventory of the database or information, or documents and articles inspected, updated, rectified, or deleted, with copies served on the petitioner and the respondent”. (Sec. 17).
The officer shall state in the return “how the judgment was enforced and complied with by the respondent, as well as all objections of the parties regarding the manner and regularity of the service of the writ”. (Id.)
The court “shall set the return for hearing” with due notice to the parties and act accordingly. (Sec. 18).
Any party may appeal from the final judgment or order to the Supreme Court under Rule 45. The appeal may raise “questions of fact or law or both”. (Sec. 19). The period of appeal shall be five (5) working days from the date of notice of the judgment or final order. (Id.). The appeal shall be given the same priority as in habeas corpus and amparo cases.
The filing of a petition for the writ of habeas data shall not preclude the filing of separate criminal, civil or administrative actions. (Sec. 20).
When a criminal action is filed “subsequent to the filing of a petition for the writ”, the latter shall be “consolidated with the criminal action”. (Sec. 21). When a criminal action and a separate civil action are filed “subsequent to a petition for a writ of habeas data”, the petition shall be “consolidated with the criminal action. (Id.). After consolidation, “the procedure under this Rule shall continue to govern the disposition of the reliefs in the petition”. (Id.).
When a criminal action has been commenced, “no separate petition for the writ shall be filed”. The relief under the writ shall be available to an aggrieved party “by motion in the criminal case”. (Sec. 22).
The Rules of Court shall apply suppletorily. (Sec. 23).
Atty. Manuel J. Laserna Jr.
LCM Law, Las Pinas City, Philippines
January 25, 2008