Activists on alert for new police raids; still no SC resolution on body cams

Activists are on high alert for a possible fresh round of police and military raids in the Calabarzon, as the Supreme Court still deliberated a final resolution on requiring body cameras on law enforcement serving warrants.

"Karapatan received reliable information that another series of police and military raids in Southern Tagalog akin to the kind of operations during the Bloody Sunday incidents are in the offing starting May 5, 2021," Karapatan told media late night Wednesday, May 5.

Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay told Rappler they learned that new search warrants had been issued by courts.

"We fear that such operations will result in more killings, arbitrary arrests and detention and other grave human rights violations," said Karapatan.

Further raising their anxiety is the wait for the Supreme Court's resolution on the use of body cameras. On March 16, the Supreme Court en banc approved in principle requiring policemen to wear body cameras when serving warrants. This was a response to mounting calls to take a stronger stance on human rights.

"I have not been informed by the en banc about this," said Court spokesperson Brian Keith Hosaka on Thursday, May 6, when asked for an update on the resolution.

Rappler has reached out to the Philippine National Police (PNP) for comment but has yet to receive a response.

PNP's newly-appointed chief, Lieutenant General Guillermo Eleazar, will take over next week, replacing the retiring General Debold Sinas. It was under Sinas' watch last month that the Bloody Sunday raids happened, when 9 activists were killed in the implementation of search warrants.

Eleazar was "receptive" to the idea of body cameras, said Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) national president Domingo "Egon" Cayosa.

"He was receptive to IBPs suggestion of body cameras for law enforcers serving search or arrest warrants," Cayosa told reporters on Thursday, following the IBP's statement calling Eleazar "a key ally in and supporter of the IBP’s Lawyer Security and Justice Program."

Impunity

Human rights lawyer Angelo Karlo "AK" Guillen, who survived a stabbing to his head last March that hospitalized him for 3 weeks, said extrajudicial killings and other forms of abuses in police and military operations would continue because of lack of transparency.

Police and soldiers accused of using excessive force and abuse always rely on the principle presumption of regularity.

"The problem with this line of reasoning, of shifting the burden of proof to the victims, it becomes nearly impossible to discharge that burden precisely because government agencies do not disclose information or allow access to relevant  documents, this means that EJKs and other forms of abuse can and will take place with impunity," Guillen said in a recorded speech during a livestreamed legal seminar on persecution of lawyers on Wednesday, May 5.

For security reasons, Guillen still does not attend live these events.

Guillen, who had been red-tagged, claimed he had been surveilled before his attack a month ago. He said access to lawyers was also a big problem for activists and other human rights defenders arrested and jailed by the state.

"We are denied access to our clients, even though Philippine law clearly says a person under detention has a right to see a lawyer immediately after arrest," said Guillen.

Journalist Lady Ann Salem confirmed this. It took 5 days before she was allowed to speak extensively to a lawyer of her choice after she was arrested last December on now junked charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives. She was arrested also after the implementation of a search warrant.

Salem said that during inquest, she was only able to talk to her lawyer for 30 minutes, after which she went days "incommunicado."

Salem said that she and unionist Rodrigo Esparago were moved to different police quarters after their arrest on December 10. And she said that in each transfer they asked to talk to a lawyer of their choice, but these were denied.

Salem said the 5 days of being deprived access to a lawyer gave her so much fear that she was "thankful" when the she was finally transferred to a jail cell.

"When I was able to meet with the lawyers on December 15 - at least then, I knew I had been surfaced, I would be detained and I would face charges. Not to be disappeared or killed," said Salem.

Salem, editor of the independent news website Manila Today, was among the increasing number of human rights defenders jailed and charged in the Duterte government's intense crackdown on activists.

'Repair the damage'

Progressive fisherfolk group Pamalakaya called on Eleazar to "repair the damage Sinas has done."

"As gesture of goodwill, he must immediately abort all the standing questionable search and arrest warrants against activists that transcend from his predecessor," said Pamalakaya.

The Supreme Court has largely distanced the judiciary from the abuses that resulted in the implementation of those search warrants. It has taken this position even as its own record show as many as 63 applications for search warrant were filed in single day, 42 of which were granted.

Groups have called on a review of the rules on search warrants. Activists have also called on the courts to acknowledge that they may be being used to crack down on dissenters. – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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