PNP sacks Calbayog intel chief for seeking court list of alleged communists' lawyers

Philippine National Police Officer-in-Charge (PNP OIC) Lieutenant General Guillermo Eleazar on Saturday, March 13, ordered the relief of Lieutenant Fernando Calabria Jr, the police intelligence chief of Calbayog, Samar, for asking a local court for a list of lawyers of alleged communists.

Eleazar said in a statement on Saturday, March 13, that he made the decision in consultation with PNP chief General Debold Sinas. This is based on the initial findings of the investigation that Eleazar had ordered after learning of Calabria's letter to the Calbayog City Regional Trial Court on Friday, March 12.

"In view of these initial findings and in consultation with our Chief PNP, Police General Debold M. Sinas, I have already directed the relief of Police Lieutenant Calabria as the chief of the Intelligence Unit of the Calbayog City Police Station," said Eleazar, who was designated PNP OIC beginning Friday, after Sinas tested positive for COVID-19.

"We are currently checking if there were similar actions in other areas. At the same time, we are investigating to determine up to what level of police hierarchy is involved in this incident," he added.

Eleazar was apparently referring to what Calabria said in his letter to the court, that his request "pertains to the compliance from higher PNP offices" regarding lawyers representing "Communist Terrorist Group (CTG) personalties in the court."

He said the initial investigation showed that Calabria actions were "part of his effort to come up with a comprehensive report on the communist insurgency situation" in Calbayog City and that "the pressure of crafting a detailed report apparently took a toll on him and eventually prompted him to commit a serious breach of policy."

"What is certain at this point is that the PNP top brass did not issue any order pertaining to that, and will never tolerate such unprofessional method of information-gathering," the PNP OIC said.

He added, "While we in the PNP remain steadfast in the campaign against communist insurgency, we will not condone any irresponsible and unprofessional act of any of our men in accomplishing that goal."

Apology for 'reckless behavior'

Eleazar apologized to the legal community for the concerns sparked by the police officer's actions.

"We fully understand the sentiments of the members of the legal community and for this, I, on behalf of the men and women of the Philippine National Police, sincerely apologize for this reckless behavior," Eleazar said.

"Our apology comes with an assurance to the judiciary and the members of the legal community that it is not and will never be the policy of the Philippine National Police to run after or even inflict harm on lawyers and members of the judiciary while performing their sworn duty," he added.

He said that the PNP intends to maintain its "good working relationship" with the judiciary "to defend democracy and maintain peace and order in the country."

Eleazar also said that the incident involving Calabria "will not in any way affect the PNP’s full support and commitment in achieving our common interest of putting an end to communist insurgency problem."

Asked to comment on the action of Calabria, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said: "Although this is a matter for the court to resolve, I find the subject request of the local police for the identity of lawyers representing militant groups or suspected rebels totally out of line and completely bereft of any statutory or legal basis.

"Lawyers are professionals and are not directly or personally involved in the causes that they represent," he added.

Guevarra also said in response to questions that while Department of Justice "has no authority to interfere with" with intelligence work of other agencies, the DOJ "will oppose and call out any such activity if the same is in violation of existing laws or established policies, or unnecessarily endangers the security of certain classes of persons, most especially lawyers."

Domingo "Egon" Cayosa, national president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), had called Calabria's letter "improper, deplorable, and alarming." (READ: LIST: Judges, prosecutors, lawyers killed under Duterte gov't)

Cayosa had also called on government agencies "to thoroughly investigate the matter, exact accountability, and more importantly, promote state responsibility to ensure that lawyers can do their job without threats, harassment, intimidation, or retribution."

National Union of Peoples' Lawyers president Edre Olalia earlier expressed concern that the request, if granted, would "enable the attacks" against human rights lawyers. – Rappler.com