Subhead: President Duterte says drug war documents matter of national security; Justice Secretary Guevarra thinks otherwise
MANILA — It took just the President’s statement Monday night for the Philippine National Police to walk back on its earlier pronouncement giving the Justice Department full access to drug war-related documents in all cases investigated by the PNP’s Internal Affairs Service (IAS).
From an initial 61 cases, PNP chief Gen. Guillermo Eleazar told ANC Rundown on Wednesday the PNP is willing to grant the DOJ access to all the records of more than 7,000 deaths during drug operations “as long as the DOJ requested for [their] availability.”
But Duterte, in his weekly television address Monday night, said they cannot give all the documents for review since there are confidential matters that involve “national security.”
“Itong confidential documents hindi niyo pwede tignan iyan. Tignan niyo nalang ano nangyari. We do not mind you even accompanying or be with a team that are operating, different teams but you are invited to join, pwede kayo.. .you can keep a healthy distance and see how the government operates,” he said.
(These confidential documents cannot be accessed by the public. Just look at what happened.)
In a joint press conference with officials from the Department of Justice and the Department of the Interior and Local Government Tuesday, Eleazar clarified they can only share resolved cases with the DOJ for review.
“Actually yung nabanggit ng ating Pangulo, hindi lahat ng kaso pwedeng ilabas natin. Through our arrangement with the DOJ, yung mga resolved na kaso na lang ang aming ifoforward sa kanila,” he said, referring to at least 53 cases where they found lapses on the part of the police in administrative cases.
(As the President mentioned, we can't enable access to all cases. Through our arrangement with the DOJ, only resolved cases will be forwarded to them.)
The 53 cases are part of the original 61 cases Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra earlier said the DOJ was granted access to by the PNP for the first time.
The remaining 8, according to Eleazar, appears to be on appeal and cannot be shared just yet, citing the Data Privacy Act.
Eleazar said PNP is willing to share even the files of law enforcers exonerated.
Guevarra said the purpose of the DOJ review would be to determine possible criminal liability.
GUEVARRA’S TAKE ON DUTERTE’S STATEMENT
Guevarra admitted not having heard the President’s statements yet but offered his take on what the Chief Executive meant.
“My understanding of what the President has been meaning is in the light of the ongoing cooperation between the DOJ and PNP, a proper concern should be given to security matters. In other words, not necessarily related to the review of these case files, hindi naman necessarily yun ang tinutukoy (not necessarily pertaining to these), as far as I’m concerned, these are criminal matters, more of a criminal nature than a national security concern,” he said.
“So I suppose that the President really meant that in the general cooperation between PNP and DOJ, concerns about national security should be properly addressed, kailangan mas maging maingat din (we should be more careful),” he added.
But the Supreme Court already weighed in on the issue of whether drug war documents are classified on the ground of national security.
In an April 2018 resolution, SC denied the Office of the Solicitor General’s claim that drug war documents cannot be released because they involve “state secrets affecting national security.”
“Contrary to the claim of the Solicitor General, the requested information and documents do not obviously 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. There is no showing that the country's territorial integrity, national sovereignty, independence, or foreign relations will be compromised or prejudiced by the release of these information and documents to this Court or even to the public. These information and documents do not involve rebellion, invasion, terrorism, espionage, infringement of our sovereignty or sovereign rights by foreign powers, or any military, diplomatic or state secret involving national security,” the high court said.
“It is simply ridiculous to claim that these information and documents on police operations against drug pushers and users involve national security matters so sensitive that even this Court cannot peruse these information and documents in deciding constitutional issues affecting the fundamental right to life and liberty of thousands of ordinary citizens,” it added.
The Supreme Court reiterated this ruling when it again ordered the OSG to release drug war-related documents in April 2019.
Guevarra agreed with the Supreme Court ruling.
"There’s this concern on the part of the President so we’ll just be more careful siguro when the PNP and the DOJ examine all of these records anew,” he said.
“We will just make it a point to determine whether there is any national security concern involved in each particular case. Kung wala naman kaming makikita and this is an ordinary criminal case na kailangan ma-imbestigahan at ma-prosecute kung sino man ang offender, then we’ll do so in accordance with our mandate as DOJ and as PNP but we’ll take note of the President’s concern and we’ll keep that in our mind as we examine each and every case folder that we’ll get into our hands,” he added.
Rights groups on Tuesday slammed the President’s move to block access to records of police killings in the drug war.
Rights groups alliance KARAPATAN said in a statement that this was a “clear and undeniable pronouncement that this government openly encourages impunity — and that is not intent on pursuing any form of justice for the victims of State violence and human rights abuses.”
“What is clear and apparent is that these violations are brazenly conducted, at many times in full view of an audience, and while these violations continue, President Duterte is shielding the police by blocking access to records of police killings in the drug war,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said.
Official records show more than 7,000 have been killed in drug-related police operations while rights groups estimate the actual number to be much higher.