PNP playing hide and seek
What is the Philippine National Police hiding? In the early days of the Duterte administration’s so-called war on drugs, the PNP was quick to share statistics on the number of suspected drug “personalities” killed. Then the flood of information that was eagerly shared turned into a trickle, and police sources and spokespersons became much more guarded. But when the PNP was haled before the Supreme Court, and the Court asked for documents related to the official claim that some 3,800 suspects had been legally killed in police operations (Kipo), the national police organization refused altogether.
Solicitor General Jose Calida filed a motion for reconsideration on behalf of the PNP, arguing that operational security and even national security would be compromised. “By requiring the respondents to submit the aforementioned information and documents, the Court has ventured into unwarranted factual inquiries,” Calida said. This was an impertinent argument, in both of the traditional senses: It was irrelevant, and it was discourteous. The Armed Forces of the Philippines, dealing with real national security issues, complied with Court directives in the highest-profile cases; in one executive session, the military leadership briefed the justices on the factual context of martial law in Mindanao.
What does the Supreme Court want from the PNP? A look at the list of documents ordered by the Court shows nothing that can possibly be considered a threat to national security. And police operations need not be compromised by court testimony (otherwise, no police investigator will testify in any court).
The order for information includes:
-List of persons killed in legitimate police operations from July 1, 2016, to Nov. 30, 2017.
-List of deaths under investigation from July 1, 2016, to Nov. 30, 2017.
-List of Chinese and Filipino-Chinese drug lords who have been neutralized.
-List of drugs involved whether shabu (methamphetamine hydrochloride), cocaine, marijuana, opioids and other illegal substances.
-Comparative tables on index crimes.
-List of warrants and warrantless arrests in high-value target police operations.
-List of cases under investigation under the PNP’s Internal Affairs Service.
Where is the threat to national security, the possible compromise of continuing police operations, that the PNP through Calida alleges?
On April 3, the Supreme Court announced that it had rejected Calida’s motion and gave the PNP 15 days from receipt of notice to comply with the order.
Three senators allied with the Duterte administration welcomed the order. Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III said, “Dapat yun (it’s only right), they will be able to submit those.” Sen. Joel Villanueva aired his hope that the order would “trigger the PNP to evaluate and review its procedure in dealing with the war on drugs.” And Sen. Panfilo Lacson, himself a former chief of the PNP, welcomed the order because “no one is above the law.” He also said, in a mix of English and Filipino: “Now it’s the Supreme Court which demanded or ordered them to submit all the details of the more than 3,000 deaths on account of legitimate operations in the anti-drugs operations. That’s only right.”
Malacañang said it had “no other alternative except to comply, subject probably to certain security checks or requirements.” Speaking for the Palace, Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Menardo Guevarra said, in Filipino: “We don’t see any potential effect [on police operations] because our law enforcement agencies are not hiding anything with these documents, except for the security of witnesses.”
If that were in fact true, why did the PNP and Calida insist otherwise?
It would be a boon to the Philippine democratic project, now under strain, if the PNP were to immediately and fully comply with the Supreme Court directive. Under the circumstances, however, we cannot rule out a belated attempt, even from the Executive, to continue to deny the Court the information it requires. A dispensation that does not want to be transparent about its own operations will benefit from the distraction of yet another constitutional crisis.
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