SolGen asks SC to junk petitions vs. anti-drug ops

MANILA -- The Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) on Tuesday asked the Supreme Court to dismiss the consolidated petitions seeking to halt the government's anti-illegal drug campaign.

In his opening statement during the continuation of the oral arguments, Solicitor General Jose Calida said two petitions seeking for a writ of amparo, wanting to prohibit the implementation of the Philippine National Police's Command Memorandum Circular (PNP CMC) No. 16-2016, otherwise known as Oplan Double Barrel, and the implementing rules of the Department of the Interior and Local Government's Memo Circular (DILG MC) No. ??2017-112 on the revised guidelines for MASA MASID, have no basis.

MASA MASID stands for Mamamayang Ayaw Sa Anomalya, Mamamayang Ayaw Sa Iligal na Droga.

The extraordinary writ of amparo is intended to safeguard every person's right to life, liberty, and security. It cannot be utilized, as the petitioners are doing, to harass, vex, or hinder public authorities in the legitimate exercise of their duties, Calida said.

The writ of prohibition, on the other hand, can only be sought by one who has legal standing, and when there is something to prohibit. These two conditions are clearly not present in this case. It is therefore not difficult to see that the present petitions are disingenuous moves to destabilize the Duterte administration and sow anarchy, he said.

The consolidated petitions were filed by the Center for International Law (CenterLaw) through lawyer Joel Butuyan, on behalf of the residents of 26 barangays in San Andres Bukid, Manila City and the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), led by lawyer Jose Manuel Diokno.

The CenterLaw petition is seeking the issuance of a writ of amparo to shield the residents of 26 barangays in San Andres Bukid against the government's anti-illegal drug war.

The FLAG petition, on the other hand, is seeking to declare as unconstitutional PNP CMC 16-2016, or Oplan Double Barrel, which Diokno said allows the police to neutralize suspected drug pushers.

The group also filed the petition for the SC to issue protection orders for the relatives of three persons who ended up as victims of extralegal killings in the drug campaign.

Diokno said that the killings of Ryan Dave Almora and Rex Aparri, and the shooting of Jefferson Soriano, are part of extralegal killings, thus they are covered by the rule on the writ of amparo.

Discussing the government's arguments, Calida said the unfortunate deaths attributed by the petitioners to the anti-drug campaign cannot be classified as potentially unlawful.

There were no findings that the killings were State-sponsored killings and that they were committed with the State's acquiescence. In particular, the 27 out of the 35 deaths in Dan~o, and the two deaths in Almora, were the result of legitimate police operations, Calida said.

"The remaining eight incidents in Dan~o involve four homicides currently under investigation and four others that have not been reported, he added.

Calida pointed out that President Rodrigo Duterte's administration did not sanction any illegal act committed by policemen.

He also cited the failure of petitioners to present proofs that the killings of drug suspects -- especially those by vigilante groups -- were sanctioned or sponsored by the government.

PNP Chief Director Gen. Ronald de la Rosa, who was required by the SC to appear in the hearing, supported this claim when he also faced the justices during interpellation.

When asked by Associate Justice Marvic Leonen if he ever gave an order to the policemen to kill the drug suspects during Tokhang operations, the PNP chief replied, "Never. 'Neutralize' means arrest, having the suspect surrender or killing suspect only at the very extreme situation as a result of legitimate police operations."

The PNP official also assured the SC that the cases of killings are being investigated.

Upon interpellation of Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza, the Solicitor General stressed that the house-to-house visitation is not a custodial investigation but actually a "display of Bayanihan spirit since the barangay officials provide assistance to the police."

"The barangay officials and people accompany the police. The knock on the door is to send a message; police never coerces them," he claimed.

He also pointed out that petitioners are not entitled to a writ of amparo, which provides protection to any person whose rights to life, liberty or security is violated or threatened, saying they "failed to establish substantial evidence of an actual violation of or threat to petitioners' rights to life, liberty and security."

Furthermore, Calida said the acts authorized or conducted under the authority of PNP CMC No. 16-2016 and DILG MC ?2017-112 do not violate any provision of the Constitution.

He said that Project Tokhang under CMC No. 16-2016 has five stages, namely: the collection and validation of information stage where information on suspected drug users and pushers is acquired and verified through a five-tier validation process; the coordination stage with local government units, Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), Dangerous Drugs Board, the Anti-Drug Abuse Councils, the Philippine Information Agency and non-governmental organizations; the house-to-house visitation stage; the processing and documentation stage where the voluntary surrender form is accomplished and the person-of-interest is interviewed; and the monitoring and evaluation stage where police action is taken in case of continued drug activities.

Project Tokhang, according to Calida is different from a buy-bust operation.

The Revised PNP Manual on Anti-Illegal Drug Operations and Investigation defines a buy-bust operation as an entrapment technique employed by a peace officer as an effective way of apprehending a criminal in the act of committing an offense.

On the other hand, Calida said Project Tokhang is a means of effectively accelerating the drive against illegal drugs in affected barangays after a thorough validation process.

Calida also said the words neutralize and negate had already been used in the PNP Operational Procedure of 2010, Manual on Anti-Illegal Drugs Operation of 2010, Revised PNP Operational Manual of 2013, and Revised PNP Manual on Anti-Illegal Drugs of 2014.

Calida also said the anti-illegal drug war campaign did not violate Section 2, Article III on the right against unreasonable searches and seizures.

He said a house-to-house visitation could not be construed as a search as its purpose is simply to persuade drug personalities to change their ways.

There is no basis for the Honorable Court to grant the petitioners' interim relief. The petitioners failed to show any clear legal right for the injunctive relief to issue, just as they have not shown any compelling evidence that their life, liberty, and security are in imminent danger to warrant the writs of prohibition and amparo. The remedies they have resorted to can be considered as a broad plea to strike down prevailing law enforcement practices on dubious constitutional grounds rather than on distinct and personal threats to their lives and safety, the Solicitor General said.

The oral argument is set to continue on December 5.

The OSG represented the respondents in the petition namely, the PDEA, PNP Chief de La Rosa, Manila Police District (MPD) Director Senior Supt. Joel Napoleon Coronel, Manila Police Station 6 Commander Police Supt. Olivia Ancheta Sagaysay, Police Supt. Jerry Corpuz, and Police Supt. Robert Domingo.

Also named as respondents were police officers assigned to MPD Station 6 identified as PO2 Rhafael Rodriguez, PO2 Princeton Felia, PO1 Harry Allan Cruz, PO1 Kennith Gaa, PO1 Efren Guitering, PO2 Jocelyn Samson, PO3 Allan Escramosa, PO2 Francisco Mendoza, PO2 Roestrell Ocampo, PO3 Rodolfo Ocampo, Jr. Police Sr. Insp. Concorcio Pangilinan, and three others identified only through their aliases, Harry, Jr., and Ivan.

Source: Philippine News Agency

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