House of Representatives

Abante scolds cops for taking photos of drug war families during hearing

Jairo Bolledo

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Abante scolds cops for taking photos of drug war families during hearing

PROBE. The House committee on human rights' hearing into drug war on June 26, 2024.

Screenshot from CongressTV

The lawmakers also issue a show cause order to former solicitor general Jose Calida and former PNP OIC Vicente Danao following their absence in the congressional probe

House committee on human rights chairperson and Manila 6th District Representative Benny Abante opened their Wednesday, June 26 hearing on the drug war by scolding some members of the Philippine National Police (PNP).

Abante warned the cops – and even threatened them with contempt – for taking photos of the families of drug war victims before the start of the Wednesday hearing. If held in contempt, a person may be detained under the custody of the House.

“If they [police] do not want to be held in contempt…I do not want anyone taking pictures of anybody, if you are not members of the media,” the panel chairperson said. “I am prohibiting any police officers to take pictures of these victims. Respect this committee.”

Abante ordered the House committee to provide a holding room for the drug war families to prevent intimidation. The House committee on human rights is probing former president Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. The congressional inquiry came eight years late, because Duterte launched his bloody campaign in 2016 and has since taken around 30,000 lives, according to human rights groups’ tally.

A day earlier, on Tuesday, it was the drug war families’ turn to share their testimonies to the panel.

Drug war families experiencing intimidation from no other than the PNP, which is mandated to protect the citizens, is not surprising. Such intimidation had well-documented by human rights groups. Drug war families interviewed by Rappler through the years consistently talked about incidents of harassment and fear. Rappler, in fact, discovered in 2023 that many drug war families were forced to leave their communities to escape violence, while those who chose to stay faced constant visits from cops.

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But not long before, the same panel chairperson who scolded the cops had made an unfair statement against the families. During the committee hearing on June 5, Abante said that “being afraid” is a “preposterous reason” to still hide because his committee promised protection to the families. He even said that the PNP has “compassion.” 

Human rights lawyer Kristina Conti, secretary-general of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers-National Capital Region and long-time counsel of the victims, was quick to counter Abante’s statement. Conti said not all families have the capacity to publicly speak about their nightmares, adding that “the psychosocial support that we provide to victims takes years, it’s re-traumatizing for them.”

Show cause order

For their failure to explain their absence during the hearings, the lawmakers have issued a show cause order to the following:

  • Department of Justice
  • Former solicitor general Jose Calida
  • Former PNP officer-in-charge Vicente Danao
  • Former National Bureau of Investigation chief Medardo de Lemos

Danao was among the “Davao Boys” – those with close ties Duterte – who held the PNP’s top post. He was the last Davao City police chief who worked with the former president before the latter became the commander-in-chief.

Meanwhile, Calida was Duterte’s solicitor general. He was the government official who blocked the release of thousands of documents related to drug war killings, claiming they contain “very sensitive information with law enforcement and national security implications.” In 2018, Calida even refused to comply with the Supreme Court order to provide full documentation of the over 3,000 deaths under the drug war.

For the next hearing, the House panel also invited Duterte and his first PNP chief, Senator Bato dela Rosa. However, Dela Rosa already announced that he will not appear before the panel. Duterte’s nemesis, former senator Leila de Lima, has also been invited for the next hearing.

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During the Wednesday hearing, lawmakers also looked into the actions taken by the PNP Internal Affairs Service in relation to the drug war. Current IAS Inspector General Brigido Dulay said the IAS was only able to file administrative, and not criminal, cases against the police in the drug war. The lawmakers questioned this because the IAS’ mandate also include the filing of criminal cases against erring cops.

The IAS is an independent body tasked to investigate police accused of violating procedures and regulations. Under its mandate, it can recommend “appropriate criminal cases against PNP members before the court as evidence warrants.” Dulay said they will look into the lawmakers’ question and will submit a report to the panel. –

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Jairo Bolledo

Jairo Bolledo is a multimedia reporter at Rappler covering justice, police, and crime.