PNP welcomes probe into arrest of activist but denies law is being weaponized

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
PNP welcomes probe into arrest of activist but denies law is being weaponized
Various human rights groups and progressive including Karapatan held protests on March 7 at the Commission on Human Rights compound to condemn the Bloody Sunday raids in Calabarzon region that resulted in nine deaths and six arrests.
Karapatan / released

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine National Police on Tuesday welcomed the investigation by the Commission on Human Rights on the arrest of Anakbayan Naga chair Sasah Sta. Rosa. 

To recall, Sta. Rosa was arrested at her home in May over supposed illegal possession of firearms and explosives—the usual charges slapped on left-leaning progressives. 

As in many other raids on progressive groups, Sta. Rosa's family was made to lie on the ground while cops searched their home for over half an hour. The family and supporters assert the charges are trumped-up, and the CHR has called for an investigation into the arrest and what it claimed was the weaponization of the law against state dissenters. 

In a statement, Police Gen. Guillermo Eleazar, PNP chief insisted that the PNP is not weaponizing the law and is only serving legitimate operations. 

“I would like to assure the CHR that the men and women of the police organization do not weaponize the law. It is not the PNP’s way to use the law to attack any citizen whom we are sworn to protect and serve. Our role is only to enforce what the law provides,” Eleazar said.

"The PNP maintains that our men follow the police operating procedure in serving search or arrest warrants."

RELATED: PNP failed to follow protocols in many drug operations, Guevarra tells UN rights body

This claim comes despite well-documented, and still unaddressed, cases of police violating their own operational protocol. 

Even the Department of Justice has admitted that the national police failed to verify its own claim that drug suspects resisted arrest. Many of these "nanlaban" cases resulted in the deaths of their targets.

The police chief also implied that the targeting of activists and government critics in many of its operations was a mere coincidence. 

“Every time we have police operations, especially the service of search or arrest warrants, the defense of individuals who just happen to be members of progressive groups that we have come to expect is the allegation that our operation is illegal or that they were harassed or planted evidence on," Eleazar said. 

"Each action of our police must be in accordance with the law because our law enforcers will be meaningless if we ourselves do not follow the law. I assure the CHR that the PNP will continue to fulfill its mandate."

READ: 'By the book': A look at quarantine incidents and police operational procedures

'PNP not weaponizing the law'

That state forces weaponize the law against perceived enemies is not a new nor baseless claim.

Rights groups both here and abroad—from local monitor Karapatan to Amnesty International, New York-based Human Rights Watch, and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights—have all acknowledged "damning evidence" of police planting evidence to justify arrests and even killings, many of which disproportionately involve progressive groups and suspected drug personalities.

But the police chief in his statement was careful to deny these criticisms, pointing to the presumption of regularity. 

"This can only be overturned by clear and convincing proof to the contrary because otherwise, I am sure we have been flooded with various nuisance cases from the accused who just want to get away with their crime," he said.

The Supreme Court in a 2019 decision has said that "the presumption of regularity in the performance of official duty...stands only when no reason exists in the records by which to doubt the regularity of the performance of official duty."

Eleazar did not address the common pattern in the arrests and killings of activists, including the same charges being slapped on them along with the search warrants signed by the same judges. 

“If there are claims of police irregularity and they feel they have evidence to support that allegation, it is well within their rights to file a complaint. We are open to any investigation and whatever the outcome, we will accept and abide,” he added.

Eleazar said that he is looking forward to the finalization of protocols by the Supreme Court on the use of body-worn cameras in police operations, particularly in the service of arrest or search warrants.

“This is a big help in addressing doubts over legitimate operations. This will also serve as protection for our people from the few corrupt ones in our ranks," he said.

READ: EJKs and abuse just a narrative by critics, Palace rights panel assures cops



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