Menardo Guevarra

Guevarra dissents again, sees no need for armed civilians to help police

Lian Buan

DISSENTER? A file photo of Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra who has recently been voicing out opinions contrary to that of the president.

Ben Nabong/Rappler

'I believe that the PNP is strong enough to perform this duty,' says Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra

In another opinion dissenting from President Rodrigo Duterte’s position, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said there was no need to arm civilians to help law enforcement.

“I believe that the Philippine National Police is strong enough to perform this duty,” said Guevarra on Tuesday, June 29, in response to reporters asking his reaction to another pronouncement of Duterte.

Duterte said at an event in Camp Crame on June 25 that he was open to provide free guns to civilians, as long as that they formed a “coalition” to help fight drugs and crime.

“I will order the police if you are qualified, get a gun, and help us enforce the laws,” Duterte had said.

Guevarra said on Tuesday that “civilians have always been free to arm themselves for their protection, provided they comply with all existing laws and regulations on the ownership, possession, and carrying of firearms outside residence.”

“Allowing them to band together and act like a vigilante group, however, is a totally different matter,” said Guevarra.

“Besides, except for a few high-profile incidents of violence, criminality on the streets is at an all-time low, due in part to the pandemic,” said Guevarra.

Guevarra did not reply to a question on the justice beat’s Viber group whether he was consulted before the president made such pronouncements.

Other opposing views

Guevarra also recently held a contrary opinion to the president’s statement that those who refused COVID-19 vaccination should be arrested.

In unison with almost all lawyers, Guevarra reinforced a basic legal fact that there was no basis to arrest unvaccinated people as there was no law criminalizing such.

However, chief presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo claimed that constitutional provisions on the right to health provided basis for arrest.

Asked whether the government’s top lawyers talked with each other before issuing statements, Guevarra said: “I don’t consult him [Panelo] before answering your questions.”

But amid his occasional contrary views, Guevarra has also had to shepherd the DOJ into defending Duterte’s verbal orders – arresting freed convicts, scrapping water deals, and recently, restoring an arrest policy against quarantine violators.

How sincere?

It was also Guevarra who said last year that broadcast giant ABS-CBN could remain on air while hearings on its franchise renewal were ongoing. He said this was pursuant to rules on equity when there was a gap in the law.

Solicitor General Jose Calida did not agree, and pushed the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to issue a cease and desist order that knocked ABS-CBN off the air. The House of Representatives eventually denied the application to renew the franchise, keeping ABS-CBN shut for more than a year now. The last time the broadcast giant was silenced was on the day former president Ferdinand Marcos declared Martial Law.

Under Guevarra, the Department of Justice (DOJ) opened a drug war reinvestigation that dented the Duterte government’s centerpiece campaign in its partial report. The DOJ panel found out that policemen violated protocol in some operations in which cops ended up killing suspects supposedly out of self-defense.

It was also under Guevarra that DOJ removed from its website a Philippine inter-agency human rights report that red-tagged activists and other civil society groups.

Cynics however doubted the sincerity of these DOJ actions, with human rights groups saying these were only a way to fool or mislead the international community.

One of Guevarra’s major policy change when he took over the DOJ was take away the state protection of plunder convict Janet Lim Napoles, shifting the tone of the justice department that previously toyed with the idea of making the businesswoman a state witness.

Guevarra was a deputy executive secretary (DES) for legal affairs in the late Noynoy Aquino’s Malacañang, before he continued on in the Palace also as a DES under his law firm co-partner and longtime friend, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea. – 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.