MANILA (UPDATE) - Philippine National Police (PNP) Officer-in-Charge Lt. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar on Saturday ordered the relief of a police intelligence officer who requested from a Calbayog court a list of lawyers supposedly representing communist rebels, describing his action as a breach of protocol.
In a statement, Eleazar, temporarily at the helm of the PNP after its chief Gen. Debold Sinas tested positive for COVID-19, said Calbayog intelligence chief Police Lt. Fernando Calabria Jr.'s request was "unprofessional" and "irresponsible," adding that this was not sanctioned by the PNP top brass.
He apologized for Calabria's actions.
"Our apology comes with an assurance to the judiciary and the members of the legal community that it is not and will never be the policy of the PNP to run after or even inflict harm on lawyers and members of the judiciary while performing their sworn duty," Eleazar explained.
He added that he also ordered an investigation on the matter.
The Supreme Court on Friday afternoon said that Calabria's request to the Calbayog Regional Trial Court was done "to the compliance from higher PNP offices."
The controversial request came with an attached table, which had a column labeled "mode of neutralization."
The letter surfaced in the wake of killings of lawyers and activists with links to the communist movement.
'OUT OF LINE, BEREFT OF LEGAL BASIS'
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra also criticized the action of the intelligence officer, saying it was "out of line."
"Although this is a matter for the court to resolve, I find the subject request of the local police for the identity of lawyers representing militant groups or suspected rebels totally out of line and completely bereft of any statutory or legal basis," said Guevarra in a statement.
He said that while Department of Justice has "no authority to interfere" with the police's intelligence operations, he would try to "oppose" the activities that happen to infringe the country's laws.
Lawyers, he pointed out, are professionals that are "not directly or personally involved in the causes that they represent."
"[DOJ] will oppose and call out any such activity if the same is in violation of existing laws or established policies, or unnecessarily endangers the security of certain classes of persons, most especially lawyers," he said.
The National Union of Peoples' Lawyers (NUPL) earlier said the request was "audacious" and expressed concern for the welfare of some lawyers.
The Integrated Bar of the Philippines also blasted the move, emphasizing that the request is something which disregards the duty of lawyers to represent the accused regardless of affiliations.
Also recently, Calbayog Mayor Ronald Aquino was killed in an incident involving police officers that left 6 people dead. There has been debate on whether the incident was a shootout or an ambush that deliberately targeted the official.
Aquino is the latest local official slain under President Rodrigo Duterte's administration. His death brought to 25 the tally of local executives killed since Duterte rose to power, including those tagged in the illegal drug trade.
-With a report from Raffy Santos, ABS-CBN News