The case against Bato and ‘Oplan Tokhang’
Efren Morillo vs Philippine National Police Chief Ronald dela Rosa is not a murder case against individual cops. It sues the entire PNP and Oplan Tokhang.
Vegetable vendor Morillo claims to be the sole survivor of a shooting last Aug. 21. That Sunday afternoon, he was playing billiards with four garbage collectors, aged 20-36, in a Payatas, Quezon City shantytown near La Mesa Dam.
Five men allegedly shot them, the last clinging to a gunman’s legs. The gunmen asked for food from a victim’s sari-sari store and stayed until uniformed police arrived hours later.
The leader told the media he was a police captain implementing Oplan Tokhang. His team caught known drug suspects and robbers in a drug session.
Morillo played dead. He crawled down a ravine behind the house. A jeepney driver took him to Montalban, Rizal, where he lived. Police there took him back to Payatas’ station and made him wait.
Half conscious, Morillo heard: “Matibay ang bata na ’yan. . . hanggang ngayon buhay pa (That kid is tough. . . he is still alive).” He was finally treated at East Avenue Medical Center at midnight, nine hours later.
A victim’s live-in-partner hid after strangers asked for her at a wake. The gunmen returned several times, one even escorting reporters.
The petition claims “lives are at a standstill”; residents are afraid to go to work or leave their children alone.
Solicitor General Jose Calida easily parried fake law cited against the Marcos state burial. Former Bayan Muna representative Neri Colmenares cited the “pantheon” law that even dissenting justices rejected as applying to the wrong cemetery. Far Eastern University undergrad lecturer Jesus Falcis bizarrely claimed the burial discriminates against those guilty of lesser crimes compared to Marcos’.
Morillo is Calida’s first real challenge, by a legal ‘special action force’ from the Center for International Law, headed by Inquirer columnist Joel Butuyan. Their junior alone, Gil Anthony Aquino, unprecedentedly won the 2015 University of Oxford Price Moot Court Competition by quoting European human rights law in England. They cite not counterfeit doctrine, but a playbook by a legend, retired chief justice Reynato Puno.
After perceived government inaction on extrajudicial killings in 2007, Puno launched the controversial amparo rules. These let judges make broad, expedited protection orders without establishing anyone’s guilt.
The Morillo case is cunningly framed to parallel the first amparo case authored by Puno in 2008 and won by the Manalo brothers allegedly tortured by soldiers for 18 months.
First, amparo skips “proof beyond reasonable doubt,” unlike a murder case. Morillo is anchored on witness testimony, supported by the captain’s media interview and police and medical reports. It only needs reasonable or “substantial evidence” of fear. The shocking allegations need not be completely proven.
Second, amparo has a summary procedure, unlike how a full murder trial would take years.
Third, amparo may restrict police operations. Morillo asks the Supreme Court to order policemen (1) not to go within five kilometers of the petitioners’ homes and workplaces, (2) to suspend Oplan Tokhang around Payatas and (3) for disclosure of all relevant intelligence reports.
Finally, the petition claims that the PNP gave “institutional imprimatur,” and that various units coordinated in a cover-up.
It links PNP Chief Dela Rosa’s Memorandum Circular No. 16-2016 on “Project Tokhang” or “practical and realistic . . . house-to-house visitations to persuade suspected illegal drug personalities to stop their illegal drug activities.”
Calida must stop any undermining of the entire PNP antidrug plan, or a template for challenges in other cities.
It is academically fascinating how current justices will shape the amparo rules. For example, the 2012 Navia decision implies petitioners must link threats to the government, unlike the 2007 rules. At the very least, “Bato” just became “freshman teaching aid” of the year.
I traced amparo’s controversial birth in “Guarding the Guardians” (86 PHIL. L.J. 523 (2012).
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