MANILA – The administration of President Rodrigo Duterte is making good on its promise to fully back the police, saying law enforcers can snub any Senate investigation on the rising number of slain drug suspects.
Several administration critics have raised concerns about the growing number of alleged drug pushers and users being killed by the police. Since Duterte assumed office last June 30, the death toll has exceeded 100, with the police saying suspects were killed after fighting back or resisting arrest.
In a press conference, Solicitor General Jose Calida said the Duterte administration will advise police not to attend any congressional probe if it will be proven that those who will lead it are only after ''media mileage."
"I am here to encourage the [Philippine National Police] not to be afraid of any congressional or Senate investigation. We will defend them...If there is a fiscalizer, I am the neutralizer and the defender of the PNP," Calida told reporters at Camp Crame.
''The office of the Solicitor General will be the first line of defense. We will assess whether the investigation is really in aid of legislation. If it is not, then we will advise the PNP not to attend."
Calida said presumption of regularity must be applied in all police operations, adding that the burden of proof rests on those who make claims that some policemen commit extrajudicial killings.
''He who alleges must prove. If you are alleging that there is 'salvaging', you must prove it. Otherwise, the presumption of regularity will apply,'' he said.
''They should come out, hindi yung basta haka-haka na lang na maraming namatay. Sa akin nga kulang pa yan. How many drug addicts and pushers are there in the Philippines?"
Calida assured the police not to be afraid of congressional inquiries, saying there are already "too many laws" in the country.
"Huwag kayong matakot mga pulis at other operatives. Marami na po tayong batas. There is no need for another investigation in aid of legislation kuno."
Duterte won the presidential election on a platform of ending criminality and corruption. He has repeatedly said he will fully back the police force if their conduct of anti-illegal drugs operations will be questioned.
The president has long been accused of tolerating or even employing vigilantes in Davao City, where he had served as mayor for about two decades. His critics fear that he could apply this same style on a national scale, even as the president vowed to double the salary of law enforcers ahead of other government employees.
DUTERTE VS DE LIMA
Among the critics alarmed by the spate of killings was Senator Leila de Lima, a known Duterte nemesis who served as justice secretary during the previous administration, as well as Liberal Party member Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat.
Calida's pronouncement today appears to signal a rekindling of the longstanding tiff between De Lima and Duterte and a clash of the two independent branches of government.
The solicitor general said there is already jurisprudence which could allow police officials to skip any Senate inquiry.
Calida believes any Senate inquiry will only derail the police campaign against illegal drugs.
"We will not allow anybody to derail these efforts of the Philippine National Police and its officers to implement the orders of the president to stop this drug trafficking and drug menace in society," he said.
He also criticized De Lima for calling for a Senate inquiry into the killings of drug suspects when she supposedly failed to clean up her own backyard as justice secretary.
''De Lima was the secretary of justice for six years. What happened during her tenure? Lalong lumakas ang proliferation ng droga even in her own turf at the national penitentiary,'' Calida said, referring to the New Bilibid Prison.
''If she's truly sincere to stop this drug menace, let us ask her what did she do as justice secretary in charge of the NBI, the prosecutorial service and correctional? Hindi po ito investigation in aid of legislation. To me I think it is investigation in aid of media mileage."
CULTURE OF VIOLENCE
Duterte's tough rhetoric on illegal drugs has also alarmed human rights advocates.
The president had said he would encourage citizen arrests against drug suspects and even authorized communist rebels to conduct their own anti-illegal drug operations.
Baguilat, who has vowed to fiscalize the Duterte administration, warned that Duterte's rhetorics promote a ''culture of violence."
"Yung culture of violence ang ayaw natin dito at saka yung rule of law, due process," Baguilat said. "And if you look at it positively, malay mo during the hearings may mamungkahi na batas na kailangan palitan o palakasin."