MANILA - The Duterte government’s insistence on keeping secret records of thousands of police operations that ended up with dead suspects is major proof of extra-judicial killings (EJKs), according to different groups of lawyers.
“Bato, we have a problem,” said Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) executive vice-president Domingo Cayosa, using the nickname of Philippine National Police (PNP) Director-General Ronald de la Rosa, at the Manlaban sa EJK forum Wednesday.
Cayosa said the PNP has refused to answer its request for “nanlaban” records, a reference to the official claim that most of the 4,000-plus suspects slain during police operations fought it out with authorities.
The police and the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), which oversees the agency, also rebuffed requests from the Commission on Human Rights, while Solicitor-General Jose Calida told the Supreme Court the records fell under “national security.”
“These are homicides. There is no national security issue involved here,” Cayosa told ABS-CBN News after the forum. “These are after-operations reports. Many of those killed were tricycle drivers, suspected street dealers. These are criminal matters, not national security.”
At the least, said Cayosa, De la Rosa and other police officials who hide operations reports should be facing administrative cases.
At the end of 2017, Director Camilo Cascolan of the PNP Directorate for Operations said 3,933 suspects were killed during police operations from July 1, 2016, to October 10, 2017.
More than 112,000 others were arrested in more than 70,000 anti-drug operations, he added, without a breakdown of operations.
De la Rosa said there were 10,354 deaths under investigation during the same months. Eight hundred of these, he added, were not related to drugs.
By February, the list of suspects slain by cops had grown to more than 4,000.
Human Rights Watch, an international watchdog, places the number of drug-related killings at more than 12,000 in January this year.
“The police claim that several police officers implicated in these killings have been dismissed from service and are under investigation but not one has been brought to trial,” the organization said. The government responded with a demand for an apology for its “sweeping accusations” and “misrepresentation.”
University of St. La Salle law dean, Jose Manuel Diokno, said the available reports at precinct levels all bore a similar pattern, “almost cut and paste.”
“In law, the burden of proof is on the police when they admit they kill a person in custody. It is the police that needs to prove the killing is justified,” Diokno pointed out. “And yet, from July 1, 2016, we have not seen the government conduct a genuine investigation of all ‘nanlaban’ cases."
Cayosa told ABS-CBN News that the PNP’s actions are meant to evade accountability.
“They want to hide reports because it can be used against them. Then they try to doctor everything to document ‘paano nanlaban’,” he said.
The PNP is hiding even the allegedly doctored reports, he added, because good prosecutors could always use these to unearth the truth.
The law is clear, Cayosa said. If there is someone killed and someone has confessed to that killing, it is homicide.
“Sa korte na sila magpapaliwanag ng self-defense,” he stressed. (It is the court that will rule on their claim of self-defense.)
A mother’s story
Katherine Bautista, a mother of a young man stopped at a police checkpoint and then left for dead in February 2017, said Manila police returned his cannibalized motorcycle three days into his wake.
She said the family was forced to abandon their home because masked men were prowling the community. Police officials, she added, also asked how much they wanted to settle the case.
“I told them, even if they offered millions, it would not give back the life of an innocent man,” Bautista said.
The lack of access to police reports hampers families’ quest for justice, Cayosa said.
Bautista, the grieving mother, said Manila police would not even give the family spot reports or any document related to the killing of her stepson, John Justin, who had no record of involvement in any criminal activity.
“They just kept telling us to drop the case,” she added. It took repeated appeals for the police forensics office to release the autopsy in May, three months after the killing.
The stalling does not only involve the PNP, she added.
CCTV cameras of the Mother and Child hospital caught the police bringing in John Justin’s body.
“They were even riding his motorcycle,” Bautista said.
But hospital authorities would not release the CCTV without the permission of Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada, Bautista added. It took 60 letters before the office of the mayor gave permission, she said.
The reports of operations are also important because these police operations are included in documents for the promotion of officers and achievement awards, said former Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares, another speaker at the forum.
He pointed out that the PNP awarded the Caloocan City Police Station as best city police unit in the National Capital Region the day cops from that city killed teenager Carl Angelo Arnaiz and only two days after cops killed another teen, Kian de los Santos.
Police involved in the two killings were slapped with criminal charges after witnesses surfaced to claim the deaths were executions and not cases of ‘nanlaban’.
“In giving the award, the NCRPO said a major criteria was that Caloocan bagged the highest accomplishment in Project Double Barrel/Barrel Alpha against drug suspects.
“Not only are families of victims given the runaround, the police is actually rewarding those who, under the law, ought to be charged with homicde,” Colmenares told ABS-CBN News.
An officer implicated in the November 2016 killing of Mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr of Albuera, Leyte is out on bail after murder charges were downgraded to homicide.
Even with those charges, Supt. Marvin Marcos was reinstated to his post as head of the PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) in Region X11.
He was last seen in Camp Crame, partying with top PNP brass during the agency’s 65th founding anniversary on February 28.
Duterte had also promised Marcos and his men a pardon if a court finds them guilty.