Release ‘tokhang’ records
At last, a spot of rain in an arid, blood-caked landscape.
The Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered Solicitor General Jose Calida to
release the police reports on drug-related killings under the Duterte administration, a much-awaited and salutary first step toward transparency and accountability in the government’s brutal war on drugs.
The high court unanimously junked Calida’s appeal to have its Dec. 5, 2017, order revoked, and required the solicitor general to submit the official Philippine National Police reports on the extrajudicial killings (EJKs) of some 4,000 drug suspects during the implementation of Oplan Tokhang from July 1, 2016 to Nov. 30, 2017.
Calida had resisted the original court ruling, citing national security concerns and insisting that the sensitive documents should be shared only among government agencies and not with the petitioners representing the families of EJK victims—in this case, the Center for International Law (CenterLaw) and the Free Legal Assistance Group.
But the Supreme Court, in a strong rebuff, brushed aside Calida’s objections, saying that the documents do not involve rebellion, invasion, terrorism, espionage, infringement of our sovereignty, or any military, diplomatic or state secret. In its earlier resolution, the Court had noted that Calida’s refusal to yield the records had led it to think the documents were being “willfully suppressed.” The latest order asks the government to “establish its claim of legitimacy of police operations.”
That has been the foremost question in the minds of the grieving families of slain drug suspects: How legitimate are police operations where suspects are summarily neutralized, instead of being placed under arrest and pressed for information that might lead to bigger drug personalities and suppliers?
Despite the thousands of deaths now associated with the campaign over the last three years, only three policemen have been convicted in court—found guilty of killing an unarmed teen in what the police described as a drug raid. It is incontestable from that record that impunity in police drug operations remains the rule, a notion that even the Supreme Court recognized. Noting in its resolution that the Duterte administration had included drug-related deaths among its accomplishments in its 2017 yearend report, the Court said that “may lead to the inference that these are state-sponsored killings.”
At the very least, the Court emphasized, the government must prove it has documented all killings, especially those in legitimate drug operations: “What is at issue is… whether those police reports have been prepared as mandated by regulations.”
Among other information, the police reports should show whether proper procedures were followed, with the names of the police team leader and team members duly noted and the postoperation report included, whether search warrants or arrest warrants were properly secured and issued, and the names of representatives of the media, nongovernment organizations and barangay officials present during the police operations mentioned.
For deaths under investigation, the report must also include the names of the team leader and members of the Scene of the Crime Operatives who investigated the killing, the investigation reports, and the charges filed against the suspects, if any.
The ruling is a welcome break for rights groups, which have waged a dangerous yeoman’s fight against the Duterte administration’s drug war methods while also providing succor to orphaned families of victims. The Supreme Court order would help give closure to the families of the thousands of suspects killed without due process, they said. The documents are “the first step toward the long road to justice,” according to CenterLaw, and “an emphatic statement by the highest court of the land that it will not allow the rule of law to be trampled upon in the war on drugs.”
The Palace has given word that it will abide by the order. “We always follow the rule of law. The Supreme Court has spoken,” declared presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo. “Unless it reverses itself upon a motion for reconsideration by the solicitor general, obedience to its ruling should come as a matter of course.”
Such assurances are welcome, but also meaningless. The proof of the proverbial pudding is in the administration’s compliance, when those reports are finally brought into the light of public scrutiny. The solicitor general has been so ordered; he should comply without delay.
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