Police, DOJ heed Duterte national security concerns on 'drug war' case review

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
Police, DOJ heed Duterte national security concerns on 'drug war' case review
This photo shows a memorial with the names of the victims of extrajudicial killings.
Karapatan, Release

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine National Police will only give the Department of Justice access to select administrative cases on “drug war” operations after President Rodrigo Duterte said the data may involve national security issues.

In a live-streamed presser on Tuesday, Police Gen. Guillermo Eleazar said they cannot release documents on all cases. “Through our arrangement with the DOJ, only the resolved cases will be forwarded to them,” he also said.

From the earlier announced 61 cases — a "woefully paltry number" compared to the 7,000 deaths in the “drug war”, according to Human Rights Watch — only 53 will be be handed over to the DOJ. The balance have pending appeals.

“So long as there is no law prohibiting it, what will be hide? Well, the DOJ is an alter ego to the president and he said they will be the one to review these cases that’s why the PNP, being part of the executive and with the guidance of the [Department of the Interior and Local Government], we are there to help the DOJ on review of cases that they are conducting now,” Eleazar added in Filipino.

This comes after Duterte, in a public address that aired on Monday night, said “drug war” documents are not public documents as these involve national security issues.

“We cannot give everything. You can go into the maybe... query as to how the battle was fought, how the gunfight started. But if you will say what prompted the police and the military to go into this kind of operation based on their reports and collated dossier, you cannot know that,” he said partly in Filipino.

Last week, the PNP chief in an interview with ANC’s "Rundown", said they are willing to give the DOJ access to documents on the police’s anti-narcotics operations.

DOJ will ‘play it by the ear’

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra acknowledged that the Supreme Court had already stated that “drug war” documents do not involve national security, but noting that the president said they do, the justice department will just “play it by ear.”

In a strongly worded resolution on petitions against the “drug war” in April 2018, the SC said it would be the “height of absurdity” if it would allow Solicitor General Jose Calida’s refusal to submit the documents relating to police’s anti-narcotics operations.

“[C]ontrary to the claim of the Solicitor General, the requested information and documents do not obviously involve state secrets affecting national security,” the high court had also said.

READ: Data on drug war deaths being willfully suppressed? The SC thinks so

Guevarra noted that with the concerns Duterte raised, they will be more careful in examining the records.

“We will just make it a point to determine whether there is any national security concerned involved in each particular case. If we do not see anything and this is an ordinary criminal case that needs to be investigated and prosecute the offender, then we will do so with our mandate as DOJ and as PNP,” the DOJ chief said.

He added: “But we’ll take note of the president’s concern and we’ll keep that in our mind as we examine each and every case folder that we’ll get into our hands.”

CHR access?

Guevarra reiterated that they will sit down with the Commission on Human Rights on whether the watchdog can also access the “drug war” cases, as he noted that the department’s work with the commission is different.

“This is something that we are seriously considering because we have also made arrangement with CHR on our mutual cooperation with respect the implementation, rather the enforcement of our rules and the conduct of our investigation with respect of the [Extrajudicial killings Administrative Order 55 in the inter-agency committee,” he said.

“So we have our own cooperation agreement with the CHR there on this matter of the review on illegal drugs so that is also a matter for serious consideration between the DOJ and the CHR and we would let you know our agreement re this matter at the proper forum,” Guevarra added.

The DOJ left out the CHR in its initial report on its review of “drug war” operations that resulted in deaths—a matter that Human Rights Commissioner Karen Gomez-Dumpit said may affect the credibility of the report.

She said in January: “If it’s done under the shadows, if it’s not transparent, then there is doubt as to the credibility of that report.”

The DOJ has since vowed more engagements with the CHR .

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