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Solgen Calida: Petitions of families emasculate drug war

One of the fatalities, who has yet to be identified, was killed in an alleged shootout with police officers in Guiguinto, Bulacan on June 16. AP/Aaron Favila, file

MANILA, Philippines (First published on November 17, 6:33 p.m.) — The solicitor general belittled legal criticisms of the bloody war on drugs, saying the petitions are done "under the guise of human rights protection."

On Friday afternoon, government's chief legal representative Jose Calida filed a 63-page comment on the consolidated petitions of two groups of families of victims of Oplan Tokhang, the core operation under the banner campaign.

Calida said the drug war is being "emasculated and undermined" by petitions of the families who lost their loved ones in the violent police operations. They are among the thousands of suspects killed in the drug war.

While the solicitor general lamented the "unfortunate" loss of lives from police operations, he said the killings "do not automatically render the anti-drug operation conducted by the respondents 'unlawful' as would entitle the petitioners to protection of writ of amparo."

A writ of amparo is a remedy the court can grant to any person "whose right to life, liberty and security is violated or threatened with violation by an unlawful act or omission of a public official or employee, or of a private individual or entity."

He warned that to "give due course" to the petitioners' "patently baseless petitions would only serve to countenance harassment suits and 'fishing expeditions' that distract law enforcement agencies from their principal duties or, worse, dampen their zeal in the pursuit of criminal elements."

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"Ultimately, the ones who will benefit from the grant [of] these petitions will be those who are engaged in the illegal drug trade. This should not be countenanced by this Honorable Court," Calida added.

READ: Duterte's war on drugs to face SC for first time

The constitutionality of Duterte's bloody war on drugs was brought to the high court by two groups of kin of Oplan Tokhang victims represented by human rights lawyers.

Calida will represent the respondents Philippine National Police Director General Ronald "Bato" dela Rosa and former-Interior Secretary Eduardo Año.

The solicitor general argued before the SC that "the two petitions before this Honorable Court, however, are marred by speculations, unfounded information, and unsubstantiated arguments."

War on drugs constitution, Calida insists

Calida argued that the petitioners "failed to establish substantial evidence of an actual violation of or threat to petitioners' rights to life, liberty and security that would entitle them to the grant of the interim reliefs prayed for."

On October 11, Aileen Almora and Rowena Appari were assisted by the members of the of Free Legal Assistance Group, led by De La Salle University Dean Chel Diokno, when they filed a petition seeking a writ of amparo (or protection), injunction and prohibition, temporary protection order, and TRO before the Supreme Court.

Almora, in her petition, assailed the constitutionality of the Duterte's memorandum No. 16-2016 ordering the police force to conduct Project Double Barrel.

The petition also challenged the DILG memorandum circular 2017-112 which allows Project Masid or the setup of community drop boxes for "reporting" of suspected drug sellers.

Calida stressed that it is within the mandated of PNP to "conduct house-to-house visitations and persuade possible illegal drug personalities to turn themselves in."

"The purpose of Project Tokhang is to persuade the surrender of suspected drug personalities, not to effect their arrest. It is undeniably a valid police measure," he added.

Petitioners from the two groups recounted harrowing experiences where cops knocked on their doors and shot their families indiscriminately.

They also noted that some of their kin have previously submitted themselves to the barangay to clear their names from involvement in drugs, but were still killed by vigilante groups.

But the solicitor general maintained that the petitioners "are effectively attacking the validity of the [PNP and DILG] circulars collaterally, in violation of prevailing doctrine."

'Petitioners failed to provide substantial evidence to prove threat to life'

Another petition was filed by Sr. Ma. Juanito R. Daño and 38 other petitioners whose families were killed in police anti-drug operations seeking for a writ of amparo.

Daño was assisted by the Center of International Law in filing its petition of October 19.

Calida hit Daño and the 17 lay mission partners who were also petitioners in the case for not being the "aggrieved parties within the contemplation of the law who are entitled to the benefit and protection of the writ."

"Sr. Daño and the seventeen lay mission partners merely took the cudgels for the victims and their “families who are [allegedly] unwilling to join the petition for fear of retaliation,” and based their allegations on news articles and information they gathered during their visits to the wake of the alleged victims," the comment further read.

On Tuesday, November 21, President Rodrigo Duterte's ruthless campaign against illegal drugs will face the 15-member court led by Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.

Police records over 6,000 deaths under investigation since June 2016, while human rights group put the death toll under the administration's drug war at 13,000.

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