SC to Calida: 'Ridiculous' to say tokhang documents involve national security

MANILA, Philippines – The Supreme Court (SC) en banc said that it is “ridiculous” for Solicitor General Jose Calida to claim that the release of tens of thousands of documents related to killings in the Duterte administration’s campaign against illegal drugs would risk national security.

“These information and documents do not involve rebellion, invasion, terrorism, espionage, infringement of our sovereignty or sovereign rights by foreign powers, or any military, diplomatic or state secret involving national security,” the SC said in its April 2 resolution that ruled in favor of the release of documents on killings under Oplan TokHang.

The SC added, “It is simply ridiculous to claim that these information and documents on police operations against drug pushers and users involve national security matters.”

Calida had earnestly fought against the submission and release of the documents to petitioners representing victims in drug war killings, claiming it would undermine national security. 

After a 16 month tug-of-war with the government, the SC stood firm that the documents need to be released to fulfill the people’s right to information.

“This Court is also mandated to protect and enforce the people’s right to information. Article III, Section 7 states that the right of the people to information on matters of public concern shall be recognized. Access to official records, and to documents, and papers pertaining to official acts, transactions, or decisions..shall be afforded the citizen,” the SC said.

“The undeniable fact that thousands of ordinary citizens have been killed, and continue to be killed, during police drug operations certainly is a matter of grave public concern," the High Court added.

In an earlier resolution, the SC said it "wants to know why so many deaths happened," adding that "the government's inclusion of these deaths among its other accomplishments may lead to the inference that these are state-sponsored killings."

We do not tolerate’

The SC also called out Calida for the Office of the Solicitor General's “unilateral arrogation” of what documents it should release.

In December 2017, the SC ordered Calida to submit to the Court documents related to 20,322 killings committed by both policemen and vigilantes from July 1, 2016 to November 27, 2017.

Calida initially refused, but was eventually compelled by a subsequent resolution in April 2018.

By September that year, Calida submitted the first batch of documents which he himself categorized into documents specific to the killings in the petitions which concern only 28 cases, and documents related to the rest of the killings.

Calida proceeded to furnish petitioners only the first set, and started another process of pleadings in refusing to give the second set.

“The Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) cannot unilaterally arrogate to itself the power to determine which documents it should furnish petitioners. We do not tolerate the OSG’s unilateral arrogation,” said the en banc.

Calida has been directed to release to the petitioners all of the documents within 10 days of receipt of the resolution.

The Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) earlier said that based on the first set of documents, it saw a pattern that would show a lack of a genuine investigation by policemen into the killings.

The Center for International Law is the other petitioner. FLAG and CenterLaw are seeking to declare tokhang or Duterte's campaign against drugs as unconstitutional.

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 or tweet @lianbuan.