Petitioners call on SC to 'guide' police with anti-drug operations

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 21) — Petitioners called on Supreme Court justices to "guide" the police in enforcing government orders on anti-drug operations on the first day of oral arguments on the administration's war on drugs Tuesday.

"What we're asking for the Court is to provide proper guidance to the police in terms of how these entire operations under its CMC-16-2016 have been conducted," said Atty. Jose Diokno of the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG).

FLAG filed a petition to the high court last October 11, claiming that government order allowed the Philippine National Police (PNP) to kill drug suspects in the guise of "neutralizing" or "negating" them.

CMC-16-2016 is the command memorandum circular referring to the PNP's "Project Double Barrel"the administration's moniker for its anti-drug campaign.

Diokno added even without the memorandum circulars, police can still pursue its war on drugs.

Justice Marvic Leonen, the associate justice who interpellated, said he is trying to figuring out what the petitioners expect the Court to produce after the oral arguments.

"The danger with this kind of a petition is that we might be unduly interfering with the executive (branch's) prerogative as to how to implement the law," he said.

FLAG's  petition was consolidated with the October 18 petition for a writ of amparo from the Center for International Law (Centerlaw)-Philippines. The writ of amparo is aimed to protect certain residents of Brgy. San Andres Bukid in Manila after reports of harassment from police officials.

Atty. Joel Butuyan, on behalf of Centerlaw, also called for the PNP to follow their existing manual on police operations and to submit all the evidence with respect to these particular killings.

"We're not actually only complaining about the killings. We're complaining against the violation of the right of security that is being done by the policemen during their operations that can even happen after the killings," Butuyan said.

But Leonen clarified that the high court's power is limited to proclamations.

"We are the Supreme Court, we are not the Justice League, that we have superpowers," Leonen said. "Now you're asking us to tell the police to do their jobs. And what would that kind of order do, in terms of addressing the systematic violence that you have mentioned?"

Justice Lucas Bersamin suggested Butuyan should have headed to the Office of the Ombudsman instead, as they have personal knowledge of the harassment and killings police officers have allegedly done in their area.

"You file a formal complaint in the Ombudsman for murder, if that is the case. You identify these people, bring all the witnesses that you have, so that this matter will be insulated, from any kind of field of manipulation or orchestration," he said.

Butuyan said his clients were afraid.

"It was explained to them that they would not pinpoint criminal responsibility, they just want protection, your Honor," Butuyan said.

According to police statistics, some 3,906 drug personalities have been killed and 113,932 arrested in the government's war on drugs. Rights groups, however, have pegged the drug-related deaths at 13,000.

But the police said in October there were "no confirmed EJK case(s)" under the Duterte administration.

READ: SC orders oral arguments on drug war, EJKs

Meanwhile, Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe asked if President Rodrigo Duterte's memorandum last October 10--which orders Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) to take the lead in the government's  anti-illegal drug operations--renders the petitions moot.

Diokno said, "The memorandum of the president can be rescinded anytime."

Duterte had also directed the PNP, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), Armed Forces of the Philippines as well as the Bureau of Customs, Philippine Postal Corp. and all other agencies to refrain from spearheading drug operations to avoid conflict.

The next session for the oral arguments on the war on drugs is scheduled on November 28, 2pm.

Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno directed Solicitor General Jose Calida to bring PNP Chief Gen. Ronald dela Rosa, Interior and Local Government Officer-In-Charge Catalino Cuy, PDEA Head Aaron Aquino, and other heads to present their side during the oral arguments.