SolGen defends Duterte's drug war before the Supreme Court

Ina Reformina, ABS-CBN

Posted at Nov 17 2017 07:32 PM | Updated as of Nov 17 2017 09:52 PM

A police officer lists down names of suspected drug users and pushers at a processing center in Tondo, Manila. File Photo/Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - The Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) on Friday defended government's crackdown on illegal drugs before the Supreme Court (SC) as it insisted on the constitutionality of the campaign.

Solicitor General Jose Calida argued that the consolidated petitions against the anti-illegal drugs campaign failed to prove that the Philippine National Police (PNP), Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) committed any illegal act since they lack evidence.

The OSG also stood by the authority of PNP chief Director General Ronald "Bato" dela Rosa and DILG officer-in-charge Catalino Cuy in promulgating assailed memoranda enforcing the PNP's anti-drug campaign "Double Barrel" and the Mamamayang Ayaw sa Anomalya, Mamayang Ayaw sa Iligal Na Droga (MASA MASID) respectively.

MASA MASID, a community-based program that encourages the public to send anonymous tips on drug suspects through drop boxes, had drawn criticism from rights groups and the church, which said it may be prone to abuse.

"For a petition for a writ of amparo to prosper, the petitioner must rely on concrete evidence. The two petitions before this honorable court, however, are marred by speculations, unfounded information, and unsubstantiated arguments,” the OSG said.

The Almora plea, where petitioners are represented by lawyers from the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), urged the high court to strike down as unconstitutional the PNP and DILG issuances, while the Daño petition, backed by lawyers from the Center for International Law (Centerlaw) - Philippines, sought relief from the high court against “tokhang” anti-drug operations of the Manila Police District (MPD).

'HARASSMENT SUITS' AND 'FISHING EXPEDITIONS'

The OSG said that while it lamented the loss of lives from certain police operations, "these incidents do not automatically render the anti-drug operation conducted by the respondents ‘unlawful' as would entitle the petitioners to the protection of a writ of amparo."

"To give due course to the petitioner’s 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," Calida said.

The OSG pointed out that majority of the Daño petition’s allegations are supposedly based only on hearsay evidence since it cited news reports and/or the judicial affidavits of the petitioners.

The OSG explained that the petitioners failed to show compelling evidence that their life, liberty and security are in imminent danger, and that they sought reliefs that are "a broad plea to strike down prevailing law enforcement practices on alleged constitutional grounds rather than on distinctive and personal threats to their lives and safety.”

It said questions raised against programs that enforce the anti-drug campaign are "classic illustrations of how the government’s war on drugs is being emasculated and undermined under the guise of human rights protection.”

ASSAILED ORDERS DO NOT DIRECT THE KILLING OF DRUG PERSONALITIES

Contrary to petitioners’ claims that the use of the terms “negated” and “neutralized” in the PNP memorandum circular is synonymous to “killing,” the OSG explained these “deliberately” presented a "skewed interpretation” of the terminologies.

"Black’s Law Dictionary defines ‘negate' as to deny; to nullify; to render ineffective. On the other hand, ‘neutralization' is defined as the act of making something ineffective. Viewed in its purely legal context, ‘negate' and ‘neutralize' should not be construed as code words for extralegal killing,” the OSG said.

Calida stressed that the assailed PNP Command Memorandum Circular (CMC) No. 2016-16 contains provisions that ensure that human rights are observed and protected in anti-drug operations.

He slammed the petitioners for “not bothering” to consider these provisions.

The OSG said the circular must be read in its entirety, even as it assured that the issuance is in harmony with other laws, including the Revised Penal Code, which prohibit unjustified or extralegal killings.”

The OSG also defended the assailed “drop box” method under DILG Memorandum Circular No. 2017-112, stressing that it "does not violate the right to be presumed innocent” and is akin to the collection of vital information from informants.

"The collection of information respecting drug personalities is not violative of any of the drug personalities’ rights. Such activity can be considered as a legally allowable government activity that taps into the citizenry’s sense of social responsibility to protect their respective neighborhoods," it said.

"Thereby, the ordinary citizens are given the opportunity to take part in the government’s anti-drug program,” the OSG explained.

As to the door-to-door house visitations provided for in PNP CMC No. 2016-16, the OSG said this is merely one of the strategies employed by the police to curb the proliferation of illegal drugs.

Calida also raised procedural issues, such as the petitioners’ lack of standing in filing the petitions.

The petitioners' plea to halt the anti-drug campaign must be junked, the OSG told the high court.

The SC has set oral arguments on the consolidated petitions on Nov. 21.

The PNP terminated its house-to-house anti-drug program Oplan "Tokhang" in October after President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency to take the lead in the anti-drug campaign.