‘War against the people’
At least 122 minors have been killed and more have lost their parents from July 2016 to December 2019 under President Duterte’s war on drugs, according to a report released in June by the Geneva-based World Organisation Against Torture and its Philippine partner Children’s Legal Rights and Development Center Inc. The deaths include that of a baby girl aged one year and eight months.
Only one drug-war incident so far has resulted in the proper investigation and conviction of the killers — that of 17-year-old Kian Loyd delos Santos, whose third death anniversary was marked last Aug. 16. The Caloocan court that found three policemen guilty in this case reminded the government in no uncertain terms: “Never has homicide or murder been a function of law enforcement. The public peace is never predicated on the cost of human life.”
Even the military has not been spared being targeted by hotheaded police and subjected to the requisite post-operation cover-up. Last June, four Army intelligence officers were killed in Jolo, Sulu. The police’s initial story was that it was a “misencounter” where the Army men had engaged the cops in a firefight. That yarn was quickly abandoned when enraged military brass called the incident a “rubout” and a case of “murder.”
Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff Lt. Gen. Gilbert Gapay has sought the immediate filing of charges in court against the nine policemen involved, saying there was an “intent to kill” and that the initial spot report was “fabricated, full of inconsistencies and misleading.”
More proof of such heinous police misconduct came to light last week when the National Bureau of Investigation recommended the filing of charges against 11 Bulacan policemen, including Maj. Leo dela Rosa, former antidrug section chief of the San Jose del Monte City police, for killing six people in an antidrug operation last February that the NBI said was fabricated.
In its investigation, the NBI found that the six victims, who were mostly strangers, were arrested on Feb. 13 as they were passing by a house where the policemen had just rounded up five others in an antidrug operation. The victims were subsequently taken to a secluded area where they were shot dead and made to appear as if they fought back. The Bulacan police, which gained notoriety in 2017 for having the highest number of drug suspects killed in a matter of days under the drug war, then listed this operation as among its accomplishments.
It’s taken this many years, with thousands of citizens having already died under the centerpiece domestic policy of the Duterte administration, but recently the Supreme Court, where two petitions seeking to declare the war on drugs as unconstitutional remain pending, appears to have bestirred itself and taken a shocked glance at the bloody landscape.
In an 11-3 decision released last Aug. 18 on a six-year-old case, the Court ruled that warrantless searches of moving vehicles arising from anonymous, unverified tips are invalid, and that the police violated the constitutional rights of the accused against illegal searches and seizures. From that seemingly innocuous case about a tipped stash of marijuana, the Court then reiterated the preeminence of the rule of law, in words that National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers president Edre Olalia welcomed for their “unequivocal boldness in indicting abuse of power dressing up the demagogic narrative in the drug war.”
“This Court will not sit idly by and allow the Constitution to be added to the mounting body count in the State’s war on illegal drugs,” declared the decision written by Associate Justice Benjamin Caguioa. “When the Constitution is disregarded, the battle waged against illegal drugs becomes a self-defeating and self-destructive enterprise. A battle waged against illegal drugs that tramples on the rights of the people is not a war on drugs, it is a war against the people.”
The Bill of Rights, the court pointed out, “occupies a position of primacy in the fundamental law.” And “The Bill of Rights should never be sacrificed on the altar of convenience. Otherwise, the malevolent mantle of the rule of men dislodges the rule of law.”
Proper law enforcement has been among the chief casualties of that “malevolent mantle.” In a podcast aired two days ahead of Delos Santos’ third death anniversary, Sen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa — police chief at the time the drug war started — admitted that before implementing the program, the Philippine National Police should have cleansed its ranks first. “I think the best model should be pagka-declare namin, nilinis muna namin ’yung hanay namin. Then after that, banat sa labas. Internal cleansing muna, then external war. Internal war to external. Ang ginawa namin kasi sabay-sabay.”
The result? A “war against the people,” indeed.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.