THE government’s top lawyer on Monday called on police to continue their campaign against illegal drugs and promised to shield them against any congressional investigation as the bodycount of suspected drug pushers continued to pile up.
“We will not allow anybody to derail this effort of the PNP [Philippine National Police] and its officers to implement the order of our President to stop this… drug menace in our society,” said Solicitor General Jose Calida in a press conference.
“I am here to encourage the PNP not to be afraid of any congressional or Senate investigation. We will defend them,” he said.
“The Office of the Solicitor General will be the first line of defense. We will assess whether the investigation is really in aid of legislation. If it is not, then we will advise the PNP not to attend,” he added.
Police have confirmed killing more than 110 suspects since President Rodrigo Duterte won elections in May promising a law-and-order crackdown that would claim thousands of lives and fill funeral parlors.
As the official death toll has mounted, human rights lawyers have expressed deep concerns that the war on crime was spiraling out of control while opposition lawmakers have called for a congressional inquiry into the spate of killings.
In response to the criticism, Calida insisted on the legality of the police killings and suggested that the campaign has not gone far enough.
“To me, that is not enough,” 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].”
Duterte, who took office on June 30, has repeatedly warned that drastic action is needed to stop the Philippines from becoming a narco-state.
A lawyer and a former prosecutor, Duterte has urged law enforcers to kill those they believe are involved in the drug trade, as well as other criminals.
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 said they were forced to shoot after encountering resistance.
One of the nation’s top human rights lawyers, Jose Manuel Diokno, warned last week that Duterte had “spawned a nuclear explosion of violence that is spiraling out of control and creating a nation without judges.”
Former senator Rene Saguisag, a prominent human rights lawyer during the martial law years, also criticized 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,” Saguisag wrote in an online column last week.
Calida, a Duterte appointee, said he would protect police from or during congressional probes, while emphasizing it was up to critics to prove allegations of abuse rather than base inquiries on speculation.
At the same press conference, PNP Director-General Ronald dela Rosa said police should not be intimidated by possible harassment suits for killing drug suspects, saying they would get the full support of the Duterte administration.
“You won’t be left to fend for yourself,” Dela Rosa said, addressing his officers in Filipino. “I despise extrajudicial killings. I don’t want that. What I want are legitimate operations. If you make a mistake, you will be held accountable, but if you are engaged in legitimate operations, we will defend you.”
Calida said that presumption of regularity must be applied to all police operations, adding that the burden of proof rests on those who make claims that some policemen commit extrajudicial killings.
“He who alleges must prove. If you are alleging that there is ‘salvaging’, you must prove it. Otherwise, the presumption of regularity will apply,” he said.
Calida also said police should not be afraid of congressional inquiries in aid of legislation, saying there are already “too many laws.”
“There is no need for another investigation allegedly in aid of legislation,” he said.
But the Commission on Human Rights, one of the staunchest critics of the President over the conduct of anti-drug operations, said he was applying a double standard by investigating police generals that he said were protecting drug lords but killing petty pushers who “deserve to die.”
“There seems to be two standards of justice. One for the poor and one for the rich as is in the case of the generals. We’re not saying that the generals should be killed.... What we’re saying is that if you have a standard like this for the generals, then that should also be the standard to adhere to when you’re treating the small people,” CHR Commissioner Roberto Eugenio Cadiz said in a TV interview.
“It’s really a big issue. Even the international community has scored the deteriorating human rights record of the country,” he added.
The international human rights group Amnesty International recently criticized the PNP for tolerating vigilantism.
Diokno of the Free Legal Assistance Group said Duterte’s campaign against criminality condones if not encourages the taking of lives.
Senator Leila De Lima last week filed resolutions seeking a Senate inquiry into the spate of killings of drug suspects under the Duterte administration.
Calida, however, twitted De Lima, saying she failed to clean her own backyard when she was secretary of Justice, and failed to address the growing drug menace.
Chief presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo also attacked senators for seeking an investigation, saying the call was “baseless” and would only raise doubts about the legitimacy of police operations.
“While it is the duty of a member of Congress to initiate investigation in aid of legislation there appears to be no basis for a Senate investigation other than speculation and conjecture. The police agency as a matter of procedure conducts immediately its own investigation when a civilian is killed in the course of an arrest,” Panelo said.
But the CHR said the rising bodycount has led it to form a task force to conduct its own inquiry.
“We cannot help but intervene because we also have a mandate to protect human rights. The Senate also has a right to conduct its own investigations in aid of legislation,” Cadiz said.
“It’s just part of the political process. The President should not take [what] the CHR, the senators, the defenders of human rights [do] personally. We are just doing our jobs and this is part of a democratic society,” Cadiz said.
Cadiz said at least 10 people were being killed every day since Duterte assumed office.
On Monday, the Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of a regional trial court in Bauang, La Union, to convict a former Dagupan City police chief and another law enforcer for protecting a shabu laboratory in Naguillan, La Union.
In Baguio City, the top drug suspect in the Cordilleras was killed while three of his alleged cohorts were arrested.
Senior Supt. George D. Daskeo, director of the Baguio City Police Office, identified the fatality as Testy Sotero, a resident of Ucab, Itogon, Benguet. – With Rio N. Araja, Rey E. Requejo, Dexter A. See, AFP, PNA,
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