By Vann Marlo M. Villegas, Reporter

THE FREE Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) lawyers said they found “similar description of killings” in police reports they reviewed in connection with the Duterte administration’s “war on drugs” and “not much effort” is being done in investigations.

“Police documents across all 23 police operations-related killings used strikingly similar (almost verbatim) language to describe the killings,” FLAG lawyer Theodore O. Te said in a press conference Thursday.

Mr. Te is referring to their review of the 29 cases contained in the first batch of documents submitted by the Office of the Solicitor-General (OSG).

“These phrases appear almost uniformly across different Spot Reports, Incident Reports, Progress Reports, Investigation Reports, Final Investigation Reports,” he said, citing in particular the part which states how the suspect, sensing that he is being tailed, shot first at the authorities, but missed, and the police returned fire.

“Investigation into the killings leaves much to be desired. While all cases indicate that investigations are ‘ongoing,’ it appears that not much effort has been placed into identifying and arresting assailants, based on the length of the time devoted to investigating the case, which ranged from several days to several months,” Mr. Te said.

FLAG is the legal counsel for three individuals who filed a petition before the Supreme Court (SC) in 2017 seeking to halt the implementation of the Philippine National Police Command Memorandum Circular 16-2016, which executed the “war on drugs.”

They reviewed 29 cases, copy-furnished to them by the OSG, which involved a total of 37 victims.

Among the cases, only 23 occurred during police operations while six were perpetrated by unknown assailants. Only 19 of the 23 cases were committed during police buy-bust operations.

Aside from similar description of the killings, Mr. Te also said there were lapses in police procedures.

He said FLAG also found in the reports that instead of turning over the seized alleged illegal drugs to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency as required by law, the material were just turned over to the Crime Laboratory of the Philippine National Police (PNP) for testing.

Mr. Te also said the rule of immediate physical inventory of seized items was only followed in one of the cases reviewed.

The Supreme Court (SC) on April 2 ordered Solicitor-General Jose C. Calida to release pertinent police documents over the government’s war on drugs to petitioners questioning the constitutionality of the anti-drug campaign.

This covered the 20,322 deaths in the anti-drug campaign from July 1, 2016 to Nov. 30, 2017. Out of the 20,322 deaths, only 3,967 died in anti-drug operations.

FLAG lawyer and senatorial candidate Jose Manuel “Chel” I. Diokno said the documents in relation to the drug war “will indicate there was really compliance with the circular and they may even support our arguments that, on its face, the circular itself is void and unconstitutional.”

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

In a statement on Thursday, the OSG refuted news reports giving the impression that the office “failed” to submit to the SC records in relation to the war on drugs.

“Such reports are misleading,” it said.

“From the time it was directed by the Supreme Court during oral arguments to submit the said documents, the OSG faithfully and promptly did so. The fact that the OSG submitted the required documents was duly noted by the Supreme Court in its Resolutions dated June 15, 2018 and July 10, 2018,” it said.

“There is therefore no truth to the reports that the OSG defied the Supreme Court’s orders,” it said, adding that it also furnished FLAG and Center for International Law (CenterLaw), also a petitioner against the anti-drug campaign, with copies of all documents they named in their respective petitions.

The SC ordered the OSG in December 2017 to submit all police reports and documents connected to the war on drugs.

The OSG filed a motion for reconsideration, citing national security, but the high court denied this in April 2018.

In another drug-related development, the PNP assured that it is taking disciplinary actions against police officers proven to be involved in illegal drugs and other crimes.

PNP Spokesperson Col. Bernard M. Banac, in a press briefing on Thursday, cited that 441 cops have been dismissed since 2016 over various cases, including drug links, as part of the cleansing campaign among the ranks.

Those dismissed were part of the 8,440 PNP personnel given disciplinary sanctions for administrative and criminal violations.

The PNP also reported that 220 police officers have been found positive for illegal drug use and 119 were charged for protecting drug suspects, possession, selling, and coddling illegal drugs.

“Nakahanda ang PNP na imbestigahan lahat ng mga pangalan ng mga aktibong pulis na mapapangalanan ng ating Pangulo (The PNP is ready to investigate all the names of active police officers who will be named by the President),” he said.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte on Tuesday said he will release a document that will reveal all the names of cops involved in the illegal drug trade. — with Vince Angelo C. Ferreras