MANILA (UPDATE) - Malacañang on Thursday slammed a Reuters report narrating how a group of police officers from President Rodrigo Duterte’s home region gained notoriety for allegedly killing dozens of drug suspects when they were transferred to the capital.
The 10-man squad tagged the "Davao Boys", whose members were from or near Duterte's native Davao City, had led majority of anti-drug operations in Quezon City Police District Station 6 led by Supt. Lito Patay, international news agency Reuters said in its report.
Station 6 officers, who man the Batasan and Payatas areas, supposedly killed 108 people in anti-drug operations from July 2016 to June 2017, accounting for 39 percent of the body count in Quezon City, Reuters said.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque slammed the report saying he was given little time to respond to allegations it contained.
“I did not meet the ultimatum, and therefore, I would not comment on the story because that’s bad journalism. You don’t write a story and give government a timeline to respond, otherwise, they will go ahead and publish a story. I thought that was really foul,” Roque said in a press briefing.
“That’s bad journalism. She went ahead and published it without my statement and how dare anyone give anyone a deadline to respond.”
In a statement, Reuters denied Roque's claims and said it had repeatedly sought Malacañang's side.
"The claim that Reuters gave the President's office just an hour to respond is untrue. Reuters sent questions to the President's office a week before the story was published and the President's office confirmed it had received them," the statement read.
"Reuters followed that up with phone calls and emails, but the President's office never responded to our questions."
Roque initially refused to comment on the contents of the report, but he eventually admitted that he has yet to read it two days since its release.
“I don’t comment on bad journalism. It’s different from ‘no comment,’” Roque said.
When given a brief summary by a reporter, Roque then pointed out that the same police station was the subject of a writ of amparo petition before the Supreme Court.
A writ of amparo is a "remedy available to any person whose right to life, liberty and security is violated or threatened with violation by an unlawful act or omission of a public official or employee, or of a private individual or entity," as defined by the High Court. It covers "extra-legal killings and enforced disappearances or threats."
In January this year, the Supreme Court issued a temporary protection order preventing police from approaching the homes and workplaces of the families of 4 garbage collectors killed last year in an anti-illegal drug operation in Barangay Payatas, Quezon City, and that of another person who survived the ordeal.
The court issued a writ of amparo for relatives of fatalities Marcello Daa, Jessie Cule, Raffy Gabo, and Anthony Comendo, and for Efren Morillo, the lone survivor in the August 2016 anti-drug operation.
The high court's directives covered the Philippine National Police (PNP), represented by police chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa, Quezon City Police District Director Senior Supt. Guillermo Eleazar, Patay, Senior Insp. Emil Garcia, PO3 Allan Formilleza, PO1 James Aggarao, and PO1 Melchor Navisaga.
Morillo was represented by CenterLaw, an organization once led by Roque, which handles cases involving human rights abuses.
“The government, when that petition for amparo was filed in the Supreme Court, did not oppose the petition and that’s why the Supreme Court issued the writ of amparo. So question: is the government sanctioning the alleged operations of this Davao group? Clearly not because in that petition, government did not oppose it,” Roque said.
“In effect, government agreed with the allegations of the petition and that’s why there was a writ of protection issued… And it’s a matter of record. The Writ of Amparo was directed against the same police station that she wrote about.”
PNP QUESTIONS TIMING OF REPORT
Meanwhile, Dela Rosa noted that the Reuters report was released about a week after the President allowed policemen to return to the frontlines of the anti-narcotics campaign after ordering the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency to take the lead in October.
"Isipin mo, kung kailan bumalik [sa campaign] saka naman inilabas iyan... Para bang inabangan," he said in an inteview with ABS-CBN's "Umagang Kay Ganda."
"Whatever actions ang gagawin ng gobyerno para sa war on drugs, mayroon silang nakaabang na issue," he added.
(Think about it, the report was only released after our return to the drug war. It's as if they waited for it. Whatever actions our government does for the war on drugs, there have an issue.)
Dela Rosa, who also hails from Davao, said Station 6 had the most serious drug problem so he personally tapped Patay, a "hardworking, sincere and fearless" former colleague, to handpick and lead the Davao Boys.
"Kahit na Col. Patay ang kaniyang apelyido, wala akong instruction na pumatay nang pumatay ng lahat ng mga drug personality diyan. 'Patay' lang ang apelyido niya," he said.
(Even if his name is Col. Patay (which translates to "dead" or "to kill"), I did not give him any instruction to kill all our drug personalities there. That's just his surname.)
Dela Rosa earlier said that deaths were inevitable where the drug trade was rampant.
"So what's the problem? The worst drug problem is there in Station 6, so if you hit the problem head on, you face the problem head on then, there would always result in casualties," he was quoted as saying in a Reuters report.
Patay has since been reassigned to another province to make him eligible for promotion, reflecting his success in convincing drug suspects in Quezon City to surrender to the authorities, Dela Rosa added.
Duterte has repeatedly denied he ordered the killings of criminals and drug dealers during his 22 years as Davao mayor, or his 17 months as president.
PNP data shows some 3,800 people have been killed in operations, in which police say armed suspects violently resisted arrest. Duterte's opponents and activists dispute that, saying executions and cover-ups are commonplace.
The administration has repeatedly asserted that it does not sanction summary executions or condone police abuses.