MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – The Philippine National Police (PNP), through government lawyers, will have to defend the state-mandated TokHang and Double Barrel operations in oral arguments at the Supreme Court (SC).
The SC en banc scheduled the oral arguments at 2 pm on November 21, SC spokesman Theodore Te announced on Tuesday, November 7.
The PNP will answer the consolidated petitions of residents of San Andres Bukid and Tondo in Manila, and residents of Quezon City. The petitions were filed on behalf of the residents by the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) and the Center for International Law (CenterLaw).
Respondents include PNP chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa and cops from the Manila Police District (MPD) Station 6.
FLAG also included former military chief General Eduardo Año in his capacity as the one in charge of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG).
Both the PNP and the petitioners were told to submit their positions to the SC before November 21.
CenterLaw said this is a positive development, especially since petitioners have been subjected to “harassment and intimidation” since filing the case.
“We are thankful for this opportunity to seek the Court’s succor. Holding in their hands petitioners’ lives, we are hopeful that the Justices will grant the petition for protection,” CenterLaw said.
FLAG echoed CenterLaw’s sentiments, with its chairman, Jose Manuel Diokno, saying: “FLAG welcomes the opportunity to speak for the thousands who were summarily executed in the war on drugs. We are grateful that the Court is willing to listen to their cries for accountability and justice.”
Diokno added: “We will try our best to convince the Court of the justness of their cause.”
FLAG is asking the SC to declare as unconstitutional Dela Rosa’s memorandum circular that operationalized Oplan TokHang in July 2016, after President Rodrigo Duterte took office.
The petitioners also want the nullification of the DILG circular on Masa Masid, the community-based program which establishes channels for reporting crimes, including the controversial drop boxes. (READ: Was the PNP’s war on drugs illegal? Here’s why lawyers think so)
CenterLaw filed the petition on behalf of the families of 35 victims of extrajudicial killings. The 35 died at the hands of masked vigilantes, but their families are accusing policemen from MPD Station 6 of being the masterminds.
Previously, CenterLaw was able to bring to court Quezon City cops, when it secured a protection order for residents of a community in Payatas.
The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) was able to get the Quezon City Police District (QCPD) to promise the court that it would minimize cops’ roles in the barangay’s door-to-door drug surveillance. (READ: Lawyers do dirty groundwork to fight Duterte’s drug war)
The upcoming oral arguments at the SC would mark the first time that the war on drugs will be tackled in court holistically, placing the Duterte administration’s flagship program under scrutiny.