PNP to SC: Presumption of regularity is on our side

Rambo Talabong

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PNP to SC: Presumption of regularity is on our side

Adrian Portugal

'The presumption of regularity remains with the law enforcers and unless proven otherwise in the court of law,' says the PNP in a statement relating to alleged extrajudicial killings

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine National Police (PNP) on Thursday, April 12, sought to quell the suspicion of the Supreme Court (SC) that drug campaign deaths may have been carried out by the government itself.

Despite allegations of irregularities hounding police, the PNP insisted: “The presumption of regularity remains with the law enforcers and unless proven otherwise in the court of law.”

“We maintain that the PNP campaign against illegal drugs is constitutional, legal, and is implemented in the interest of public safety,” said PNP spokesperson Chief Superintendent John Bulalacao in a statement.

The High Court’s suspicion arose from the Duterte administration’s listing of deaths in anti-drug operations as “accomplishments” in their 2017 yearend report.

In a resolution released on Tuesday, April 10, the SC denied Solicitor General Jose Calida’s motion for reconsideration of the SC order that directed government to provide full documentation of Oplan Tokhang (or “knock and plead” operations conducted by the police to convince drug users to surrender and reform).

Ignoring Calida’s appeal that documents would risk national security, the SC is compelling the government to turn them over to the court. Citing the 20,322 deaths during the Duterte administration’s anti-drug war from July 1, 2016 to November 27, 2017, the SC said these are tantamount to “an average of 39.46 deaths every day.”

“This Court wants to know why so many deaths happened.”

What is the presumption of regularity? The term means that cops who kill suspects should not be questioned because it is presumed that the killings take place while they’re on regular duty. It has become the PNP’s defense mantra when cops are facing accusations.

From the start of the government’s relentless “war on drugs,” when bodies started piling up, up until recently when the campaign’s death toll reached 4,000, police invoked the presumption of regularity. From the drug operation that killed Caloocan City teen Kian delos Santos to the raid that killed Ozamiz City Mayor Reynaldo Parojinog, police invoked the presumption of regularity.

As part of their defense, police also say that drug suspects are dangerous in encounters, supporting the police narrative that law enforcers only pulled the trigger when drug suspects “fought back” (nanlaban).


Another PNP defense: According to Bulalacao, it is also illogical to conclude that the government has a policy of killing drug suspects.

Bulalacao explained: “Emphasis should not only be focused on the [more than] 4,000 deaths in police operations, but also on the more than 1.3 million surrenderers, 120,000+ arrested persons and on the number of law enforcers who have died during these police operations.”

“If the claims on EJK are true, then these surrenderers and arrested suspects should not be alive as well. The ratio of those who died and those arrested and surrendered is 0.3% only, which would logically rule out EJK,” Bulalacao added.

Standstill or cooperation? In an April 4 briefing, Bulalacao said the PNP “welcomes” the SC decision to compel them to share drug campaign documents, but added that they will only follow what Calida recommends they do.

Bulalacao had also admitted that they have begun collating PNP drug campaign records, but could not describe which documents or how many of them are already prepared to be filed before the High Court. (READ: Submitting drug war documents will endanger cops’ lives – Dela Rosa)

In a phone interview on April 6, incoming PNP chief Director Oscar Albayalde said his upcoming leadership favors sharing the files with the SC. –

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Rambo Talabong

Rambo Talabong covers the House of Representatives and local governments for Rappler. Prior to this, he covered security and crime. He was named Jaime V. Ongpin Fellow in 2019 for his reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. In 2021, he was selected as a journalism fellow by the Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics.