SC tells SolGen to bare all 'Tokhang' papers, hits partial release of drug death docs

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 17 2019 03:45 PM

MANILA – The Supreme Court has called out the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) for releasing only selected police documents in its compliance with the order to provide copies of police reports on drug war deaths to petitioners that had questioned the campaign before the tribunal.

In a resolution dated April 2, the high court said the OSG was "mistaken" in releasing only documents on cases involving relatives of the petitioners. It said its directive was for the release of all documents.

“The OSG is mistaken…We direct the OSG to provide petitioners Almora, et al. and Daño, et al. with copies of the entire set of Annexes from 1 to 57,” the resolution read. 

The high tribunal had required the OSG in August 2018 to, among others, furnish Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) Chairman Jose Manuel Diokno with documents relating to the government’s anti-narcotics drive.

This is in connection with separate petitions FLAG and the Center for International Law (Centerlaw) had filed on behalf of families of alleged victims of controversial anti-drug operation Oplan Tokhang before the high court questioning the government’s war on drugs. 

But, instead of providing FLAG with copies of all Tokhang documents, the OSG, in its submission on Sept. 4, 2018, said it had classified the documents into two: one involving the petitioners’ relatives who died in police operations; the other involving all other police operations and deaths under investigation.

It furnished FLAG only the first group of documents, claiming that the other documents were “irrelevant” to the issues involved in the petitioners’ case. It also argued the documents contained “very sensitive information with law enforcement and national security implications.”

In its resolution, the court noted that when the OSG initially submitted its compliance, it did not make any reservation that certain documents would be withheld from petitioners.

“The OSG never mentioned any category of documents during the oral arguments, or even during its prior Motion for Reconsideration dated 18 December 2017, when it refused to submit all the information and documents requested by Members of this Court,” it said.

“We find that it cannot now impose conditions on its compliance. We find that it is only the OSG, which unilaterally classified the documents into Categories 1 and 2, without the knowledge of or consent from this Court and the parties, for the first time on 4 September 2018, or after it already submitted its Compliances to the Court and the parties without any qualification or condition on 26 April 2018 and 25 June 2018,” it added.

The Court said the OSG “arrogated upon itself the determination of the relevance of the documents” and rejected OSG’s claim that the documents involved matters affecting national security, citing its earlier resolution.

“[C]ontrary to the claims of the Solicitor General, the requested information and documents obviously do not involve state secrets affecting national security. The information and documents relate to routine police operations involving violations of laws against the sale or use of illegal drugs,” it said.

It added that the issues do not involve the country’s territorial integrity, national sovereignty, independence, foreign relations, rebellion, terrorism, espionage, infringement of sovereignty or sovereign rights by foreign powers, or any military, diplomatic or state secret involving national security.

“It is simply ridiculous to claim that these information and documents on police operations against drug pushers and users involve national security matters,” it said, calling the OSG’s argument a “hasty conclusion” without factual or legal basis.

The court said it would “not tolerate the OSG’s unilateral arrogation,” noting its constitutional mandate to protect and enforce the people’s right to information and access to official records and documents.

“The undeniable fact that thousands of ordinary citizens have been killed, and continue to be killed, during police drug operations certainly is a matter of grave public concern,” the Court said.

“Thus, sound factual and legal bases mandate the OSG to comply with our Resolution dated 14 August 2018, without any qualification,” it added.

SC magistrates had, on April 2, voted unanimously in an en banc session in Baguio City to grant FLAG and CenterLaw’s request that they be furnished copies of thousands of Tokhang documents.

FLAG is representing Aileen Almora, Rowena Aparri, and Jefferson Soriano in the first petition which urged the high court to strike down as unconstitutional Philippine National Police (PNP) Command Memorandum Circular (CMC) No. 16 – 2016 for Oplan Double Barrel, the police anti-drug campaign, and Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Memorandum Circular 2017-112, which put up a system of anonymous reporting for offenses involving illegal drugs, criminality, and corruption.

CenterLaw, meanwhile, is representing Ma. Juanita Daño in the petition asking the high court to bar Manila Police District Station 6 “from conducting any anti-illegal drugs or anti-criminal operations in San Andres Bukid without the required coordination and presence of representatives from the barangay, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, the media, and such other persons required to be notified or having the authority to be present at and observe such operations.” Daño, et al. pointed out there were 35 “drug-related deaths in the area” in a span of 13 months.