Philippine judiciary

Judge seeks ‘special’ measures to stop police ‘unnecessary’ killings

Lian Buan

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Judge seeks ‘special’ measures to stop police ‘unnecessary’ killings
A Naga City lower court judge is seeking a special dialogue with police to address killings in his city, as lawyers nationwide demand that the Supreme Court take more decisive action

The killing of a former court staff during a police search in Naga City has pushed a lower court judge to seek a “special dialogue” with local police “with a view to avoiding unnecessary use of lethal force and even its possible collateral damage.”

Judge seeks ‘special’ measures to stop police ‘unnecessary’ killings

Naga City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 61 Judge Soliman Santos wrote Naga City Executive Judge Erwin Virgilio Ferrer on March 8, requesting that the RTC hold a “closed door special dialogue” with the local police.

“[It is] to address what appears to be a recent spate of police nanlaban killings in the course of drug buy-bust operations and even a recent search warrant implementation operation, with a view to avoiding unnecessary use of lethal force and even its possible collateral damage,” Santos said in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by Rappler on Monday, March 15.

“Hoping for your prompt and favorable action,” Santos added.

Ferrer replied the next day through a letter that the issue can be “properly addressed and discussed” when the Justice Zone meets next, “taking into consideration the health protocols that must still be followed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.”

“Rest assured this will be one of the agenda,” said Ferrer.

The Justice Zone is a European Union-funded project that creates a mechanism of coordination between the justice agencies of a locality – the courts, prosecutors, police, and jails. The Naga justice zone, set up in 2019, is the newest of only 6 justice zones nationwide.

In his letter, Santos proposed the dialogue not only with the director, intellogence head, drug enforcement head and station commanders of the Naga police, but also “ideally with” Naga mayor Nelson Legacion.

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‘No more unnecessary killings’

Santos’ letter was prompted by the February 26 killing of Dino Dañas, a former employee of the Naga RTC. 

Dañas’ home was being searched for drugs on the power of a search warrant issued by Ferrer. Dañas was killed during the operation, among the many cases of nanlaban (or resisting arrest) nationwide, most recently the 9 activists who were killed during police searches in Calabarzon in what has now been dubbed “Bloody Sunday.”

The police report said: “However, upon noticing the arrival of the operating team, suspect ran towards to a room inside his residence and took a Cal .38 revolver and fired towards the team. Hence, the operating team returned fire to repel the danger posed by the suspect, which resulted to an armed confrontation.”

Police said they seized two sachets of shabu and one piece of fragmentation grenade. Dañas was pronounced dead in the hospital morning of February 26.

Dañas belongs to a family of lawyers, his father a former fiscal, and his brother, a current clerk of court in the same RTC.

A separate police report showed that on the same morning of February 26, there were nearly a dozen other people in Dañas’ home playing cara cruz. The police arrested 11 people on the principle of caught in the act, apprehending them for illegal gambling.

The police report said a sachet of shabu was seized because it was on top of a table. That detail is important because the 11 people were not subjects of search warrants, nor were their possessions, but under the rules, a searching policeman can seize evidence seen “in plain view.”

The validity of police searches has come under scrutiny as human rights groups claim it is an emerging modus or a sketchy template.

Santos noted that because of the sheer number of people there, “the armed confrontation could have easily led to more casualties.”

“This is not the only police nanlaban killing incident in Naga City in recent times,” said Santos, noting that a son of a lawyer was also killed in a police operation.

“There should be no more unnecessary killings in the course of drug law enforcement, if it can be helped, especially in our beloved City of Naga,” said Santos.

The judge’s personal action to push the RTC for special measures comes amid an intensifying demand for the Supreme Court to act as an institution.

Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta met with the Justice Sector Coordinating Council (JSCC) on March 11,  but the issue of lawyer killings was not discussed, according to Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra. 

The JSCC is composed of the SC, the DOJ, and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG). The PNP is under the DILG. 

The Supreme Court said in a press release that the agenda of the March 11 meeting, which was held at the Manila Hotel, focused on setting up another justice zone in Calamba City, Laguna.

There’s also a demand for the Supreme Court to publicly denounce the act of Lieutenant Fernando Calabria Jr, the intelligence chief of the Calbayog police in Northern Samar. He asked the local court for a list of lawyers who represent alleged activists, possibly putting them in harm’s way.

The Supreme Court has not replied to our questions as of writing.

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan is a senior investigative reporter, and minder of Rappler's justice, human rights and crime cluster.