Philippine courts get new powers to stop killings

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MANILA, Sep 25 (Reuters) The Philippines' Supreme Court approved today a set of rules to help stop the killing of leftist activists, granting magistrates broader powers to force the military to probe allegations against soldiers.

Chief Justice Reynato Puno said the rule on the writ of amparo, adopted to protect against rights abuses in most Latin American countries, would take effect on October 24 to hold public authorities more accountable to the people.

''This rule will provide the victims of extralegal killings and enforced disappearances the protection they need and the promise of vindication for their rights,'' Puno said in a statement at the end of a full court session on Tuesday.

Puno said the new rule is broader than similar in other countries, particularly in Latin American states during the time those countries were governed by military junta.

''It protects not only against actual violations but also against threats of violation of rights,'' Puno said.

''The sovereign Filipino people should be assured that if their right to life and liberty is threatened or violated, they will find vindication in our courts of justice.'' Under the new rule, the burden of proof was shifted to the state in cases of political violence where the government refused to provide vital evidence.

A local human rights group has said more than 800 people have been killed since President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo came to power in 2001. About 200 have also disappeared and believed executed.

A UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings said in February the military was responsible for many of the deaths.

The army denied the allegations, blaming many of the murders and abductions on internal purges within the communist New People's Army (NPA) rebels, while international rights groups have said there's evidence of a ''dirty war'' by the military.

Puno said the new rule could help speed up resolution of cases of extra-judicial killings despite the legal system's reputation for moving slowly.

REUTERS JK ND1650

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