The Commission on Human Rights in Central Visayas (CHR-7) will proceed with investigating policemen linked to killings of drug suspects and will still expect cooperation from the Philippine National Police (PNP).
CHR-7 Director Arvin Odron issued this statement on Saturday amid reports that the PNP, upon the instruction of President Rodrigo Duterte, could no longer share their case folders with the CHR without approval from Malacañang.
Chief Supt. Jose Mario Espino, director of the Police Regional Office in Central Visayas (PRO-7), also said on Saturday that they just could no longer easily give the CHR any information that they would ask from the police.
“We have to follow our guidelines before appearing to them or giving them documents,” he told Cebu Daily News in an interview.
However, he said, CHR may continue to conduct parallel investigations on drug-related killings and other possible human rights violations.
Espino affirmed an existing directive from their higher-ups in the PNP that whenever CHR requests for information pertaining the government’s war on drugs and other crimes, the commission must first seek the permission of the Office of the President.
President Duterte, however, is unlikely to give the clearance, Undersecretary Catalino Cuy, the acting chief of the Department of Interior and Local Government, told reporters in Manila on Friday.
Odron said he has yet to receive a copy of the PNP memorandum that requires them to seek an approval from the Office of the President when they request for case folders and other pertinent information from the police.
“As far as I know, the PNP headquarters already issued a memorandum directing the concerned police offices and PROs to release to the CHR all case folders related to the illegal drugs operations,” he told Cebu Daily News in a text message on Saturday.
“There was a timeline indicated, I suppose, covering the period of the incidents and the PNP was instructed to submit the requested documents to the CHR until this week,” he added.
In fact, Odron said the CHR is currently conducting an inventory of all the suspected extrajudicial killings (EJKs) that occurred from December last year to May this year.
“I’ll ask the CHR central office if they already have a copy of any recent PNP memo so we can discuss and clarify the impact of such alleged statement issued by the President with the agreement entered into by and between the CHR and the PNP,” he said.
CHR Chairman Jose Luis Martin “Chito” Gascon, interviewed in Manila on Saturday, stressed there would be no letup in the commission’s attempts to get the administration to cooperate in its probe of alleged summary executions in police operations, particularly in relation to the drug war.
“We shall await formal notice of this denial and will consider all options available to us to obtain the information necessary to be able to conduct a thorough inquiry into these killings — including invoking the [executive order] on Freedom of Information and possibly issuing subpoena,” he said.
‘Stick to instructions’
But Cuy on Friday said that he and PNP Director General Ronald dela Rosa already sought the President’s clearance on August 30 to release the case folders to the CHR but were told not to give it to the commission.
Cuy said the President told them to “stick to the instructions,” apparently referring to his previous statement following his State of the Nation Address (Sona) where he intimated an intention to abolish the CHR.
“I will not allow my men to go there (CHR) to be investigated. Remember this, (Commission on Human Rights): You address your request through me because the Armed Forces is under me and the police is under me,” Mr. Duterte was quoted saying during a press conference after he delivered his second Sona last July 24.
Speaking to reporters at the sidelines of the 51st founding anniversary of the National Police Commission, Cuy said the CHR was aware of the President’s instructions.
“During our meeting with the CHR, we told them about the directive. It was announced during the Sona,” Cuy said.
The order, he explained, covered “all investigations to be conducted on the police and the military actually pertaining to human rights violations.”
Cuy and Dela Rosa met with Gascon on August 29 in Camp Crame where the agencies promised to work closely on the investigation of deaths under investigation (DUIs) and a number of other cases where drug personalities were killed in purported shootouts with the police.
Espino, on the other hand, stressed that the PNP would continue to respect the authority of the CHR.
But he said the CHR must follow the right protocol as directed by the President.
Requesting for case folders, Espino said, is different from just talking to each other to map out and assess programs of the government.
“Coordination, meeting, talking, discussion with CHR, (there is) no problem with that. But when it comes to releasing documents to them (CHR), they have to follow what they are directed to do and that is securing the approval from the Office of the President,” Espino explained.
Since May 2016, shortly before President Duterte assumed the presidency, CHR-7 has been investigating at least 59 cases of alleged extrajudicial killings.
Of the number, six were elevated to the Office of the Ombudsman — all of which involved policemen or operatives of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency in Central Visayas.
Since the police have reservations in giving the particular names of those who may have shot the victims, CHR-7 chief investigator Leo Villarino said all members of the operating teams, including their leaders, have been impleaded in the complaints filed at the anti-graft office.
CHR-7 has been following the drug killings in the region through news reports, which they use as basis to step in and investigate.
While most cases stemmed from motu propio investigations, Villarino said they accepted walk in complainants.
Villarino admitted they have a hard time investigating cases that involved unknown assailants or suspected vigilantes for lack of witnesses.
“Many witnesses fear for their lives,” he said in a separate interview.
Based on the records of the PRO-7, a total of 188 drug suspects were killed in alleged shootouts with policemen, while 213 others were gunned down by still unknown assailants from July 1, 2016 to July 2017.
On the other hand, at least 9,466 drug suspects were arrested in the region over the same period of time while some 108,742 drug users and pushers surrendered to the authorities at the onset of Oplan Tokhang or toktok hangyo, a police door-to-door anti-drug campaign where suspects are asked to surrender and sign documents renouncing their drug-induced life.
Since the war on drugs started, PRO-7 has seized a total of 35,039 grams of shabu (methamphetamine) worth P363.8 million.
Agreed to cooperate
Gascon, on the other hand, said Dela Rosa had agreed to cooperate and hand the CHR the case folders of drug-related killings.
He said his meeting with Dela Rosa came in the wake of the controversial killing of 17-year-old Kian delos Santos last August and after the government itself reported more than 3,000 deaths of suspects in police drug operations.
In a Senate hearing earlier this month, Gascon revealed that, at present, the PNP had not forwarded to the CHR any of the requested documents.
Gascon reminded the PNP that “these are public documents and official records that – in the public interest – should be made readily available to other agencies, the media, other stakeholders and the public at large.”
He added that sharing them would be “in the spirit and intent” of the Freedom of Information executive order, one of the first orders signed by the President.
“The CHR will use the agreed mechanism of regular consultations with the DILG and the [Philippine National Police] in order to thresh out these concerns and clarify the importance of cooperation,” Gascon told the Inquirer in a text message.
“We will always stress that failure to assist CHR in performing its mandate may be construed as unwillingness to address human rights violations.”
“For this reason, we shall continue to request for copies of documents in the custody of law enforcement and call on the current administration to cooperate with CHR in an open and transparent manner,” he added. “Our purpose is to assist in ferreting out the truth that the ends of justice might be served and hope the administration will cooperate fully in these investigations.”
Meanwhile, Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella urged the public to view the recent deaths of teenagers with “suspicion and urgency” because “malignant elements” may have conspired to sabotage President Duterte’s war on drugs.
In Digos City on Friday, Mr. Duterte also asserted that the latest spate of killings were meant to sabotage his efforts against criminality and illegal drugs.
“Look deeper into it because you (PNP Chief Ronald dela Rosa) are being sabotaged. It’s not the job of the police [to kill kids]. These killings were intentional,” Duterte said.
The consecutive killing of Delos Santos, 19-year-old Carl Angelo Arnaiz and 14-year-old Reynaldo de Guzman has sparked public condemnation and placed the spotlight on the government’s bloody campaign against illegal drugs that has already claimed the lives of thousands.