SINGAPORE — Justice Francis Jardeleza proclaimed a slam dunk theory to end “Project Tokhang” house visits during the second Supreme Court “tokhang” hearing last Nov. 28.
On deck were Free Legal Assistance Group led by Dean Jose Manuel “Chel” Diokno, and CenterLaw’s young lawyers led by Inquirer columnist Joel Butuyan. CenterLaw’s Gil Anthony Aquino and Cristina Antonio joined the bar in 2016 and 2015, almost 30 years after Diokno.
In the first hearing, Diokno attacked Command Memorandum Circular (CMC) 16-2016, claiming its terms “negate” and “neutralize” mean “kill.”
But his case collapsed within Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio’s first nine minutes of questions, including a standard freshman exam question on the right against unreasonable search that was answered wrong.
Only Jardeleza bolstered Diokno’s “top level” attack on CMC 16-2016’s wording, contrasted with Butuyan’s “ground level” attack on its implementation specifically in San Andres Bukid, Manila.
Jardeleza asked Diokno to recast his case per his suggestions. Innocuously, he asked Butuyan to argue the same, even if he did not formally attack CMC 16-2016. His clients were too scared to authorize this.
In the second hearing, Jardeleza repeated Butuyan’s argument that “house visitations of suspected drug personalities” violate the right against unreasonable search. Any consent to enter cannot be valid because it is made under threat of “immediate case buildup and negation” under CMC 16-2016 if entry is refused.
Solicitor General Jose Calida likened “tokhang” to “bayanihan,” where barangay officials join police. He refuted that police do not enter homes, make arrests or seize evidence; they merely talk with no coercion intended.
But Jardeleza countered this then triggers the right against self-incrimination and custodial investigation rights under Republic Act No. 7438, including the right to a lawyer and other “Miranda rights.”
These are not ordinary conversations because the person visited is already listed as a suspect, though there is no evidence to apply for a search or arrest warrant.
Calida parried that custodial investigation involves actually being brought into custody, not speaking with police at one’s own door.
Jardeleza cited Sec. 2(f) of RA 7438: “‘custodial investigation’ shall include the practice of issuing an ‘invitation’ to a person who is investigated.”
If police cannot invite one to the police station unless there is cause for arrest, he paralleled, neither should they be able to invite themselves to one’s home. “Tokhang” creates a coercive atmosphere such that the police station is practically transported to one’s home when several policemen knock on one’s door.
Jardeleza thus pronounced a “prima facie case” for stopping further “tokhang” house visits. This is a powerful argument because custodial rights are one area where the Constitution always favors the suspect, given the sheer imbalance relative to police.
Calida eventually asked to answer Jardeleza in a memorandum, a polite way of calling a time out.
Completing Jardeleza’s masterstroke, no one noticed how he transplanted Butuyan’s arguments to salvage Diokno’s case, when he curiously asked Butuyan to argue Diokno’s case in the previous hearing.
It was Butuyan who prominently cited custodial rights in his opening speech, and RA 7438 is raised in page 49 of Butuyan’s written petition but not cited in Diokno’s.
Justice Marvic Leonen spoke for one out of the second hearing’s three hours, injecting drama by asking Philippine National Police Chief Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa if he ever issued a kill order.
Before Calida spoke, Butuyan was grilled at length by Justices Presbitero Velasco Jr. and Alexander Gesmundo. The latter tried to trap him by arguing there is no penalty for police who conduct unauthorized searches.
Butuyan won the skirmish, correctly citing “violation of domicile,” Art. 128 of our Revised Penal Code. The trap was
odd, though, as a circular’s invalidity is not the same issue as implementing policemen’s liability.
React: email@example.com, Twitter @oscarfbtan, facebook.com/OscarFranklinTan.