SolGen blasts planned inquiry into PNP drug war

Posted on July 12, 2016

THE GOVERNMENT’S top lawyer defended the brutal war on drugs and related criminality being waged by the Duterte administration, amid mounting criticism including by some senators who have threatened to investigate the slew of killings barely two weeks into Rodrigo R. Duterte’s presidency.

The Philippine National Police (PNP) has confirmed killing more than 110 suspects since Mr. Duterte won the presidential election in May promising a law-and-order crackdown that would claim thousands of lives and fill funeral parlors.

As the death toll continues to rise, and other bodies not confirmed killed by police have been found with placards declaring them drug traffickers and criminals, human rights lawyers and some lawmakers have expressed deep concern about the war on crime spiraling out of control.

In response to the criticism, Solicitor-General Jose C. Calida held a press conference on Monday at the PNP headquarters to insist on the legality of the police killings and to urge the police to step up their campaign.

“To me, that is not enough,” Mr. Calida said of the killings so far.

“How many drug addicts or pushers are there in the Philippines? Our villages are almost saturated [with drugs].”

In one of the deadliest single incidents, police reported killing eight “drug personalities” during a pre-dawn raid on Saturday in a small southern town.

As in the other cases, police insisted they were forced to shoot after encountering resistance.

For his part, the PNP chief, Director-General Ronald M. dela Rosa, reiterated his stand against vigilante groups going after illegal drugs suspects.

“The PNP does not condone vigilantism. I, personally, will be vigilant against vigilantes,” he said at the news conference.

“Go ahead, we are here to support you. Just remember don’t abuse. Everything should be legitimate police operations,” he added.

“I am openly encouraging our people, keep pressing forward my brothers, there is no retreating because the momentum is in our side, we cannot afford to waste the momentum,” Mr. dela Rosa also said, in response to what he called the “low morale” among the police force following criticisms of their campaign.

One of the nation’s top human rights lawyers, Jose Manuel I. Diokno, warned last week that Mr. Duterte had “spawned a nuclear explosion of violence that is spiraling out of control and creating a nation without judges.”

Former senator Rene A.V. Saguisag, a prominent human rights lawyer during the regime of dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos, also criticized Mr. Duterte’s statements naming and shaming alleged drug lords and police officers ahead of a formal investigation.

“Do we still probe and have a trial as part of due process? Useless, it seems to me,” Mr. Saguisag wrote in an online column last week.

Sought for comment, Commission on Human Rights Chairperson Jose Luis Martin C. Gascon said in part via text that “[H]uman rights concerns in law enforcement operations are a matter of such importance that Congress can look into.”

Some opposition lawmakers, notably newly-elected Senator Leila M. de Lima, have called for a congressional investigation into the spate of killings, prompting Mr. Calida’s frank words about the senator and former justice secretary.

“He who alleges salvaging must prove it. If you cannot prove it, the presumption of regularity will apply,” Mr. Calida said, adding: “There cannot be an investigation based in speculations. She has to prove it.”

“This is not an investigation in aid of legislation. To me, this is an investigation in aid of media mileage.” Mr. Calida said the proliferation of drugs worsened during Ms. de Lima’s tenure as justice secretary. He threatened to file a case against her in connection with what he deemed to be her track record and also advised that she review her criminal law.” In effect, [this planned Senate investigation] dampens the morale of the men in uniform. They are risking their lives and here comes the senator who, based on speculations, malign[s] the good reputation of officers who put their lives on the line.” “The Office of the Solicitor-General will be the first line of defense,” Mr. Calida also said at the news conference. “We will assess if the [Senate] investigation is really in aid of legislation. If it is not, then we will advise the PNP not to attend.”

“I am here to encourage the [police] not to be afraid of any congressional or senate investigations. We will defend them... I am the defender of the [police],” he said.

In response, Ms. de Lima told reporters also on Monday: “Why is there such a reaction? But I will not be intimidated. I will still push for my proposal to conduct a Senate inquiry unless it is overruled by the majority of my colleagues.”

“My push for a Senate inquiry is not intended to make our law enforcers dispirited. I want to strengthen them. And how do you do that? To ensure that what they’re doing is right according to the law, according to existing guidelines,” she added.

“That’s why if our police and the administration are confident that all these cases of killings of drug suspects are aboveboard, then they should welcome any and all inquiries that are being conducted or will be conducted.”

Ms. de Lima also disputed Mr. Calida’s remarks about her tenure as justice secretary and recalled leading a raid at Bilibid prison on Dec. 15, 2014.

“I have said this many times that when we received intel (intelligence) reports about what was being done by a number of convicts in the Bilibid. I had to convene an inter-agency meeting and we met several times and I called for the validation of those intel reports that had findings that there were a number of convicts still plying their drug trade while inside the penitentiary,” she said.

She added: “We discovered their luxurious lifestyles inside the prison. We transferred Bilibid 19 to the NBI Detention Facility because we didn’t know where to put them in the Bilibid. We searched for a place in the Bilibid where they can really remain. What was suggested to me by then-Director Frank Bucayo was Building 14. They began renovations and in the meantime, a new BuCor (Bureau of Corrections) Director came in and that is Director-General Rainier Cruz. When the renovations for Building 14 ended, DG Cruz was already the director.”

“It’s not true that shabu was being cooked inside the Bilibid or any other kind of illegal drug. We did not find anything of the sort. It’s almost impossible except if all of them were on it, from the director up to the lowest ranking employee of the BuCor, but that’s not the case.”

“What are they going to file against me? I’m also involved in drugs, is that it? I will not be baffled if that will be the next move and they will start labeling me as a protector or coddler of drugs. It’s crazy.”

For his part, outgoing Senate President Franklin M. Drilon said he was also alarmed” by Mr. Calida’s remarks, adding that they “were uncalled for and reek of arrogance, unbecoming of a solicitor-general.”

“We will assert our Constitutional duty to investigate illegal, unjust, improper, or inefficient acts committed by any public official in order to strengthen our existing laws on this matter, and to further aid the campaign of the President against illegal drugs,” Mr. Drilon said.

But Senator Panfilo M. Lacson differed with Ms. de Lima and Mr. Drilon, saying that it is “premature for the Senate to talk about... investigating the police for supposed summary killings when, as it appears at least for the moment, it’s merely based on conjectures and suspicions and without sufficient basis.”

“Unless there’s at least a testimony under oath that summary executions were indeed committed in the course of the police anti-drug operations, I’m afraid we will just embark on a fishing expedition.”

Mr. Lacson, however, was also critical of Mr. Calida’s remarks: “I think it’s even more premature for SolGen to advise the [police] to ignore the Senate’s summons if and when such investigation in aid of legislation is conducted.”

In his interview with reporters, Presidential Chief Legal Counsel Salvador S. Panelo said there was “no basis” for a Senate investigation into the anti-drug campaign “other than speculation and conjecture.”

He added: “First, as a manner of protocol or procedure, the police agency conducts immediately an investigation when a civilian is killed in the process of arrest. Second, I don’t hear any investigation coming from The Human Rights Commission.”

“So any attempt therefore to conduct a Senate investigation... especially [by] that particular senator who wants to conduct the investigation, may be viewed as an attempt to discredit the legitimacy of police operations... against the drug menace.” -- AFP, with Julianne S. Ruizol, Joseph U. Vizcarra, and Faye G. Estopace