MANILA, Philippines – Solicitor General Jose Calida on Tuesday, March 5, said the government stands firm that it will not publicly release documents on the 20,322 killings by both police and vigilantes linked to the anti-drug campaign.
But this is not up to the government or to Calida, but to the Supreme Court (SC).
A pleading obtained by Rappler shows that on February 8, Calida asked the SC en banc to give him until March 14 to answer petitioners’ requests for the release of documents.
Calida said on Tuesday that the two petitioners, the Center for International Law (CenterLaw) and Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), are only entitled to documents related to the killings specified in their petitions. He was referring to 35 alleged cases of extrajudicial killings (EJKs) in Manila for CenterLaw, and 3 alleged cases of EJKs in Metro Manila and Baguio City for FLAG.
“When you file a case…you just single out who is the victim. If that is the situation, then all the EJK killers in the world should be decided by the Supreme Court. That’s baloney. They are not entitled to all the documents,” Calida said.
In a reiterative motion filed on February 22 before the SC, CenterLaw said Calida’s refusal to release the documents violates President Rodrigo Duterte’s executive order on freedom of information.
“Under this executive order, there shall be a legal presumption in favor of access to information, public records, and official record,” said CenterLaw.
But Calida said: “There are still cases being investigated by law enforcement, by the police. They are still ongoing cases…. Why give away matters that still pertain to the investigation stage?”
Calida claimed on Tuesday that the non-release of the documents was a condition he set to submit the documents to the SC. It took a separate round of pleadings for the SC to compel Calida to turn them over.
“That was last year, more than a year already. Well, the Supreme Court accepted the documents we gave to them and there was no order that we give to the other parties,” said the solicitor general.
Asked if the SC expressly agreed to the condition or if it had only been implied, Calida said: “What do you think? We did not receive any order.”
But contrary to that claim, pleadings obtained by Rappler show that on August 14, 2018, the SC “required” the Office of the Solicitor General to furnish FLAG copies of all the documents submitted at that point.
It was Calida who appealed again last September not to release the rest of the documents.
The SC must again rule on this issue, which groups say has implications on the ongoing preliminary examination of the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The ICC will assume jurisdiction to investigate the killings if it can establish that the Philippine government is not willing or able to investigate the killings by itself. The documents would prove the willingness and ability of the government.
Calida did not directly respond.
“The problem with them is they’re putting words in our mouth. This is the case before the Supreme Court and…out of respect for the SC, we gave these documents even if they are not germane to the case at hand,” he said.
Of the 20,000 or so killings, the government recognizes that 5,000 were due to police operations. The government is not investigating those 5,000 cases due to the presumption of regularity.
Excluding numbers from Manila, Quezon City, and Taguig City prosecutors, all in all, the government has prosecuted only 76 cases, meaning it has let thousands go unsolved. – Rappler.com