SC: Writ of Continuing Mandamus Applies Only to Environmental Cases; Cannot be Invoked to Compel Investigation of Anti-Illegal Drug Operations

The writ of continuing mandamus is a remedy available only in environmental cases and thus cannot be used to compel the performance of particular acts relating to the anti-illegal drug operations of the government.

Thus held the Supreme Court En Banc, in a Decision penned by Associate Justice Maria Filomena D. Singh, dismissing the petition for mandamus filed by Anna May V. Baquirin, Mary Jane N. Real, Maria Lulu G. Reyes, Joan Dymphna G. Saniel, and Evalyn G. Ursua (collectively, petitioners).

The petitioners prayed for the issuance of a writ of continuing mandamus to compel then Philippine National Police (PNP) Director-General now Senator Ronald M. Dela Rosa, then Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Chairperson Jose Luis Martin C. Gascon (now deceased), and then Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II (collectively, respondents) to investigate and prosecute extrajudicial killings in connection with the Duterte administration’s anti-illegal drugs campaign.

The petitioners, who filed the petition as concerned citizens and as members of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, claimed that the respondents failed to adequately perform their duty to prevent violations of the right to life and to investigate and prosecute the same.

They prayed that respondents be directed, through a writ of continuing mandamus, to, among others: investigate each and every allegation of violation of the right to life committed under the government’s anti-illegal drug operations, such as Oplan Tokhang and Oplan Double Barrel, and prosecute perpetrators when warranted; and submit periodic reports to the Supreme Court on (1) the actual number of extrajudicial killings and their circumstances; (2) the progress of the investigation of each case until all investigations are completed and appropriate criminal charges are filed in courts; and (3) the positive measures adopted to prevent further violations of the right to life and their implementation.

In denying the petition, the Court held that a writ of mandamus is a remedy granted by law when any tribunal, corporation, board, officer, or person unlawfully neglects the performance of a legal duty, or unlawfully excludes another from the use or enjoyment of a right or office to which such other is entitled.

For a writ of mandamus to be issued in a case alleging an officer’s neglect of duty, the following must be established: (1) a clear legal right accruing to the petitioner; (2) a correlative duty incumbent upon the respondent to perform an act mandated by law; (3) the respondent neglected to perform such act; (4) the duty is ministerial, and not discretionary, in nature; and (5) there is no other plain, speedy, and adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law.

In the present case, however, the Court held that it was not established that respondents neglected their duties as respective heads of the PNP, DOJ, and CHR, in preventing and investigating violations of the right to life, in relation to the government’s anti-illegal drugs campaign.

“Besides conjectures and conflicting statements, the petitioners offered no concrete proof that the respondents are remiss in their duties,” said the Court. “Their bare allegations cannot be given credence, all the more so with respect to the CHR, as Gascon submitted certified true copies of the CHR’s records for each region on their investigations on the extrajudicial and drug-related killings, and the list of trainings they conducted for the police and military sectors from 2016 to 2017.”

The Court added that the petitioners cannot impose on the respondents “the standards and characteristics of investigation which they deem to be appropriate and sufficient through a mandamus petition, as it lies only to compel the performance of purely ministerial duties.”

The Court further held that the writ of continuing mandamus is available only in environmental cases, as provided in A.M. No. 09-6-8-SC or the Rules of Procedure for Environmental Cases. The writ is issued by a court in an environmental case directing any agency or instrumentality of the government or its officer to perform an act or series of acts decreed by final judgment which shall remain effective until judgment is fully satisfied. When granted, the writ requires the performance of an act or several acts for the full satisfaction of a judgment.

Finally, the Court stressed that neither can the respondents be required to submit periodic reports to the Court as such directive violates the doctrine of separation of powers. [Courtesy of the Supreme Court Public Information Office]

Full text of G.R. No. 233930 (Anna May V. Baquirin, et al. v. Ronald M. Dela Rosa, et al.) at:

Full text of the Separate Opinion of Senior Associate Justice Marvic M.V.F Leonen at: