By Vann Marlo M. Villegas, Reporter

THE SUPREME COURT (SC) said the government’s releasing of documents in connection with its drug war does not pose a threat to national security.

The high court also slammed the Office of the Solicitor-General (OSG) for “arrogat(ing) upon itself the determination of the relevance of the (said) documents.”

“[C]ontrary to the claim of the Solicitor-General, the requested information and documents do not obviously involve state secrets affecting national security. The information and documents relate to routine police operations involving violations of laws against the sale or use of illegal drugs” the SC said in its April 2 resolution directing the Solicitor-General anew to release the said documents.

“These information and documents do not involve rebellion, invasion, terrorism, espionage, infringement of our sovereignty or sovereign rights by foreign powers, or any military, diplomatic or state secret involving national security. It is simply ridiculous to claim that these information and documents on police operations against drug pushers and users involve national security matters,” the high court also said.

SC Public Information Office Chief Brian Keith F. Hosaka announced on April 2 that the high court ordered the OSG to release all documents pertaining to the war on drugs. The resolution was released to media April 17.

The SC in December 2017 ordered the OSG to release the said documents after holding three-day oral arguments on two petitions questioning the constitutionality of the drug war.

This decision stemmed from the petitions of Center for International Law (CenterLaw) and FLAG in 2017 which sought the SC to stop the government’s war on drugs. CenterLaw asked for the issuance of writ of amparo protecting residents of 26 towns in San Andres Bukid, Manila from the war on drugs while the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) raised questions on constitutionality.

The Court subsequently granted an August 2018 request by FLAG to be furnished with copies of the documents.

OSG on Sept. 4 that year furnished FLAG copies of the documents (classified as Category 2) connected only to its petitions, and filed a partial motion for reconsideration in which it claimed that the petitioners are not entitled to Category 1 documents as they contain “sensitive information” which could have national security implications.

Category 1 documents consist of lists of persons killed in legitimate police operations from July 1, 2016 to Nov. 30, 2017, as well as lists of deaths under investigation and of Chinese and Filipino-Chinese drug lords, among others.

“(W)e find that the OSG arrogated upon itself the determination of the relevance of the documents to the issues involved in the present petitions. To reiterate, we have ruled in our Resolution dated 3 April 2018 that the determination of whether particular evidence is relevant rests largely at the discretion of this Court,” the SC stated.

“We do not tolerate the OSG’s unilateral arrogation,” it added.

For its part, the OSG said in a statement April 4 that it “will faithfully abide with the Court’s directive.”

In a related development, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency(PDEA) said the conviction rate of drug cases increased in 2018.

PDEA noted there were 41,583 cases filed in court in 2018, of which 13,111 resulted in conviction — 46.82% higher compared with 35% in 2017.

In a statement on Tuesday, PDEA Director General Aaron N. Aquino attributed this to the efforts of PDEA’s lawyers, but also cited cases that were “dismissed or indeterminately delayed because of the failure or negligence of some prosecutors to take advantage and make use of pretrial measures and remedies.”

The PDEA chief also credited his agency’s Project Court Watch program in its efforts on the legal front. — with Vince Angelo C. Ferreras