Black letter, dark times
On paper, it doesn’t seem like such a bad idea. The principal author of the new law allowing three officials of the Philippine National Police to issue subpoenas justified it on grounds of more effective policing.
In sponsoring the measure that eventually became Republic Act No. 10973, Sen. Panfilo Lacson, famously a former PNP chief himself, called for the return of a set of powers once exercised by the police.
“It seems absurd that the Criminal Investigation Unit (CIU), now known as the CIDG [Criminal Investigation and Detection Group], with a mandate to undertake monitoring, investigation and prosecution of all crimes of such magnitude and extent as to indicate their commission by highly-placed or professional syndicates and organization, has lost its subpoena powers.”
And on paper, it doesn’t seem to make as much sense to provide an agency tasked with “monitoring, investigation and prosecution” of major crimes like the National Bureau of Investigation with subpoena powers and to withdraw the same powers from the PNP’s CIDG.
Aside from the NBI, other agencies of the government, including the chambers of Congress, the Department of Justice, the Ombudsman and of course the courts, could issue subpoenas compelling the appearance of persons and of subpoenas duces tecum compelling the presentation of material of interest to an investigation.
The black letter of the law, however, must be read in context — and in the context of both recent history and the turbulent present — the grant of subpoena powers to the PNP has rightly set the Spidey-sense of human rights advocates tingling.
“At a time when the PNP has been committing widespread rights violations without accountability in the war on drugs, granting the police further powers to act without judicial authorization is a recipe for disaster,” Carlos Conde of Human Rights Watch said.
We are, after all, talking about the same Philippine National Police whose conduct of the government’s signature antidrugs campaign has been suspended twice because of public outcry over truly scandalous killings.
We are talking about the same organization which changed its definition of Kipo, suspects killed in police operations, and invented a new category of killings, DUI or death under investigation, to manage public anxiety over the campaign, only to finally decline to yield the information on campaign-related killings to the Supreme Court.
We are talking about the same government agency which receives high satisfaction ratings overall but on specific issues, such as whether it is telling the truth when its police officers say suspects in the antidrugs campaign were killed because they fought back, generates very little trust from the public.
Not least, we are talking about a set of powers enjoyed by a police organization disbanded after the Edsa People Power Revolution and replaced by the PNP because its very initials, PC, short for the Philippine Constabulary, were code for rampant corruption and pervasive abuse.
The horrors of our history under martial rule, and the conduct of an antidrugs campaign which, no matter which statistics one cites, qualifies as a calamitous bloodletting, justify these expressions of alarm.
Even PNP Director General Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa acknowledges that the law, which grants subpoena powers to the PNP chief, the director of the CIDG, and the CIDG’s deputy director for administration, is not as simple as it reads on paper.
Rather than embracing the new law as a validation of his command of the PNP or his control of the antidrugs campaign or the President’s vote of confidence in him, having extended his term twice, a subdued Dela Rosa said: “I will not use it. While the CIDG is there, I will not use that. Maybe you’ll say I will use that against the political enemies of the Duterte administration? … Tell them, rest assured I will never use it while the CIDG is functioning.”
This is proof, perhaps unintentionally provided, that the context in which the measure became law is, or rather remains, a real problem.
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