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Sisyphus’ Lament

CJ Carpio wants drug war ‘kill records’

Our national honor again hinges on the chief justice.

In 2001, Hilario Davide Jr. was applauded by massive Edsa Dos crowds. In 2006, now Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio blocked a people’s initiative to amend the Constitution, sacrificing a sure chief justice appointment. In 2007, Reynato Puno issued landmark amparo rules against extrajudicial killings.

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In 2018, Carpio demands what Reuters calls “kill records,” official police documentation of 3,806 deaths in antidrug operations from July 2016 to November 2017.

CenterLaw’s young human rights lawyers filed an innovative, painstakingly documented amparo petition, on behalf of the second most congested district in San Andres Bukid, Manila. A writ of amparo is a protection order a judge may issue without the strict evidence required for criminal prosecution.

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No one appreciated how they also requested a long list of protective measures.

Brilliantly, they demanded all documentation required by existing Department of Justice orders and police operations manuals: autopsies, ballistic tests and operational and intelligence reports.

But Carpio misses nothing.

In hearings last December, he asked Solicitor General Jose Calida to submit records for all 3,806 deaths nationwide.

Calida agreed, but reneged. The high court ordered him to fulfill Carpio’s order this month.

Calida’s objections were reasonable but ultimately untenable.

First, he invoked national security. Of course, we must protect informants and policemen. However, military and state secrets are generally not involved in ordinary buy-bust operations, as they are not in ordinary murders and robberies.

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Carpio and CenterLaw demand routine documents. Any citizen may request these under the right to information, as Justice Lucas Bersamin beautifully summed up in his 2016 Sereno vs Committee on Trade decision.

He cited Carpio’s landmark 2002 Chavez vs PCGG decision on “affording the people an opportunity to determine whether those to whom they have entrusted the affairs of the government are honestly, faithfully and competently performing their functions,” and the primacy of “a well-informed public.”

Second, Calida argued that the high court does not try facts. But an amparo petition is an exception. It precisely requires the high court to weigh facts to issue a protection order.

Third, Calida argued that the kill records are “patently irrelevant.” At worst, he should disclose only those for San
Andres Bukid.

But the Sereno and Chavez decisions emphasize that courts determine what information is of public interest. Surely Carpio can seek to understand antidrug operations in general to understand San Andres Bukid’s plight in particular.

In another “own goal,” Carpio is actually impeded by the much weaker Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) petition.

Unlike CenterLaw, FLAG did no fieldwork and instead played word games, arguing a police circular that used the word “neutralize” really ordered the murder of drug suspects. The high court cannot just take FLAG’s logical leap to accuse police of malice. Carpio himself pointed out that the word “neutralize” featured in police manuals before July 2016.

And Carpio showed holes in the FLAG case in his first nine minutes of questioning.

Calida wisely debated the weak FLAG case in public, not the CenterLaw case. He correctly argued that police misconduct is a point of implementation that should not invalidate an otherwise valid circular.

Few caught that this has nothing to do with Carpio’s demand for documents in the CenterLaw case — FLAG’s petition never requested the records CenterLaw did.

The Philippines has a frustrating record of championing flawed legal initiatives and ignoring innovative ones. No one reacted to Calida’s refusal of Carpio’s order last January. Initial news reports on the CenterLaw hearings omitted CenterLaw from its own case.

This time, let us support our most senior, most brilliant and most independent jurist. For our national honor, let Carpio — not the International Criminal Court — review the kill records and hold rogue policemen accountable.

React: oscarfranklin.tan@yahoo.com.ph, Twitter @oscarfbtan, facebook.com/OscarFranklinTan.

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TAGS: Antonio Carpio, CenterLaw, drug killings, EJKs, extrajudicial killings, FLAG, Free Legal Assistance Group, ICC, International Criminal Court, Jose Calida, Office of the Solicitor General, OSG, Sisyphus’ Lament, Supreme Court, war on drugs
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