Drug war case hangs as 2nd justice in charge retires

The petitions questioning the legality of President Rodrigo Duterte's drug war have spanned four years and passed through two justices-in-charge, with the second one retiring on June 30.

Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo said he was hoping a decision would be rendered before June 30.

"Hopefully, Justice EDSA will be able to write his ponencia before he retires," Gesmundo said in his first meet the press event on Friday, June 11, referring to Associate Justice Edgardo Delos Santos who availed of early retirement effective June 30. A Duterte appointee, Delos Santos was supposed to retire in June 2022 yet.

He is the 3rd Supreme Court justice in the pandemic period to leave ahead of their mandatory retirement. The two others were former chief justice Diosdado Peralta and former associate justice Priscilla Baltazar-Padilla.

Gesmundo confirmed that Delos Santos inherited the case from its first case lead, retired senior associate justice Antonio Carpio who retired in 2019.

Before Carpio left, he was able to successfully compel the Duterte government to turn over the documents related to the more than 20,000 drug war deaths both by policemen and vigilantes. At that point, there were more than 3,000 killed in anti-drug police operations, a number that reached 7,884 by August 2020.

Rappler obtained and investigated the first batch of submissions and found that they were rubbish files, mostly not related to the drug war. For the documents that were drug-related, there were no records of deaths in police investigations, indicating a poorly documented centerpiece campaign.

A 2nd batch was submitted by the end of 2019. Was the 2nd batch more compliant?

"Depending on the submissions (Justice Delos Santos) will present to the Court en banc for deliberation, that’s the time we will see the assessment of the documents presented by the OSG," said Gesmundo.

Asked if the submissions have been fully evaluated, Gesmundo said "I cannot supervise how Justice EDSA does his work in a specific case."

"What his analysis will be is too early for me to say, until the draft ponencia and the report and recommendation is distributed to each member of the court," said Gesmundo.

"I do not want to preempt Justice EDSA on his recommendation before his retirement, but I’m sure that Justice EDSA will submit before his retirement," said Gesmundo.

Delos Santos and 12 other justices were present on the Zoom meeting, the first time that the en banc joined the chief justice for a meet the press event.

The other justices, however, did not answer questions except for one "deviation" when Gesmundo called on Justice Marvic Leonen to explain the decision to junk the petitions questioning Duterte's unilateral withdrawal from the International Criminal Court (ICC).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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