Government officials on Wednesday, November 29 defended Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s controversial anti-illegal drugs campaign before the Supreme Court (SC).
During the resumption of the oral arguments on petitions challenging the constitutionality of Duterte’s drug war, Solicitor General Jose Calida maintained that the killings of drug suspects were not sanctioned by the state.
“There were no findings that the killings were state-sponsored killings and that they were committed with the State’s acquiescence,” Calida said.
He also claimed “petitioners have a skewed interpretation” of the government order to neutralize drug suspects.
“‘Neutralization’ was defined under CMC No. 11-2017 as referring to the arrest or a surrender of an illegal drug personality. Likewise, it refers to the death of a drug personality during legitimate drug operations,” the solicitor general noted.
“Viewed in their purely legal contexts, these terms should not be construed as synonymous to extrajudicial killing but as a comprehensive term that includes to subdue, incapacitate, arrest and in the most extreme case when the life of the police officer is endangered, to kill,” he added.
Supporting Calida’s statement, PNP chief Director General Ronald Dela Rosa also denied that he has given any order to kill drug suspects.
“Never. Neutralize means arrest, having the suspect surrender or killing suspect only at very extreme situation as a result of legitimate police operations,” Dela Rosa said.
Last month, rights groups Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) and Center for International Law (CenterLaw) headed by Aileen Almora and Sister Ma. Juanita Daño respectively filed separate petitions seeking to nullify Duterte’s drug war.
In their petition, FLAG argued that the Philippine National Police (PNP)’s Command Memorandum Circular (CMC) 16-2016 or “Project: Double Barrel” should be declared unconstitutional because it paves way for the police to kill suspects in guise of “neutralizing” them during operations.
CMC 16-2016 states that PNP’s Project: Double Barrel aims “to clear all drug affected barangays across the country, conduct no let up operations against illegal drugs personalities, and dismantle drug syndicates” by pursuing the “neutralization” of illegal drug personalities and its network backbone.
FLAG also assailed the legality of Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Memorandum Circular 2017-112, which establishes a system of anonymous reporting of suspected criminals.
FLAG lodged the petition for two victims of alleged extrajudicial killings identified as Ryan Dave Almora and Rex Appari and a survivor, Jefferson Soriano.
CenterLaw, on the other hand, filed the petition for the families of 35 alleged drug suspects killed in drug war operations and residents of San Andres Bukid in Manila who asked the SC to issue a writ of amparo in order to protect them from the alleged harassment of police.
But Calida insisted that the “unfortunate deaths” attributed by the petitioners to the anti-drug campaign “cannot be classified as potentially unlawful.”
He pointed out that “the 27 out of the 35 deaths in Daño, and the two deaths in Almora, were the result of legitimate police operations.”
“The remaining eight incidents in Daño involve four homicides currently under investigation and four others that have not been reported,” Calida added.
Claiming that the petitions are “disingenuous moves to destabilize the Duterte administration and sow anarchy,” Calida asked the high court to dismiss them.
“The petitions intend to drive a wedge between the president on the one hand, and the PNP and DILG on the other, inciting disobedience to the Chief Executive and depriving him of his powers and prerogatives; and emasculate the government’s police powers by rendering inutile the PNP’s sworn mandate to enforce the law and maintain peace and order,” he said.
The solicitor general went on to say, “The court should not let these happen because they will have long-term, catastrophic effects on the nation’s stability and security.”
But for SC Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza, there is enough evidence to suspend the drug war.
Referring to the section 3 of CMC 2016-016, which is the double barrel project’s “highlight,” Jardeleza noted that the house-to-house visitations of the police “is not a purpose allowed under the bill of rights.”
“To my mind, and not examining the mass of facts presented by both petitioners, there is a prima facie case to issue a TRO (temporary restraining order) against section 3, only section 3, of the provisions on house-to-house visitation of [the] CMC ,” Jardeleza said.
“Effectively, the person is not secure in his house, and for any reason, and above reason, which is to confront, even if I accept your formulation which is to persuade the person to stop his evil ways, is not a purpose allowed under the bill of rights,” he added.