Philippine economy

Malacañang on police subpoena powers: Law will address abuse

Lian Buan

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Malacañang on police subpoena powers: Law will address abuse

Adrian Portugal

'Mayroon naman tayong mga umiiral na batas po kapag inabuso itong ganitong kapangyarihan,' says Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque

MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang sought to allay fears that the new law that gives the Philippine National Police (PNP) chief and the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) Director and Deputy Director for Administration subpoena powers will result to new rounds of abuses in a police-led war on drugs marred by accusations of extrajudicial killings.

So ilan lang po silang binigyan ng ganiyang subpoena powers. Pangalawa po, ay mayroon naman tayong mga umiiral na batas po kapag inabuso itong ganitong kapangyarihan,” Roque said in a press briefing held in Iloilo on Saturday, March 10.

(There are just a few who were given subpoena powers. And secondly, we have a law that will address abuse of such powers.)

How will law address it? Roque said that individuals who would want to challenge the subpoena can go to the court and argue that it is capricious.

Kinakailangan pa magsampa sa hukuman ng isang petisyon for indirect contempt. So iyong subpoena powers po hindi po iyan dahilan para sila ay magkaroon ng kapangyarihan na mag-aresto, dahilan lang po iyan para magkaroon ng petition for indirect contempt at ang hukuman pa rin po ang magpapataw ng parusa doon sa hindi susunod sa mga subpoenas,” Roque said.

(They still have to file a petition before the court for indirect contempt. So that subpoena power will not be enough reason to authorize them to arrest, it’s just a reason to file a petition for indirect contempt. It will still be the court who will penalize those who will not comply to the subpoenas.)

What fuels fears? The allegations of extrajudicial killings.

In a statement, the Gabriela partylist said the subpoena power “is a green light to more extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests.”

There is a pressing question on whether policemen were aided by search warrants in their anti-drug operations that led to deaths. The Supreme Court wants to see full documentation of those operations, but Solicitor General Jose Calida refuses to provide them.

Did this new law provide a legal shortcut?

“We stand firm that the PNP should have no quasi-judicial or prosecutorial investigative powers, especially with its undisputed record of corruption, arrogance, human rights violations, and its fondness for legal shortcuts. PNP does not have any credibility to handle the responsibility that goes with such power,” said partylist representatives Emmi de Jesus and Arlene Brosas.

What are the questions? The constitutionality of the PNP’s circular operationalizing the war on drugs is being challenged in petitions pending before the Supreme Court.

During the Supreme Court oral arguments, Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza said he sees enough basis to suspend the war on drugs.

Adding subpoena powers to the PNP and CIDG might play a factor into the legal questions on the war on drugs.

For example: Will a subpoena substitute for a search warrant? 

The new law specifies that the PNP chief and CIDG executives can issue a subpoena duces tecum. Usually, a subpoena duces tecum is an order for a person to produce relevant documents and bring them to the court.

But, as described in a Supreme Court ruling, a subpoena duces tecum also covers “things described in the subpoena.” What will be those things that a person will be compelled to produce?

Roque himself said “this subpoena power will give hope to the many victims of crimes who were deprived of justice due to the slow investigation processes, as witnesses or respondents to crimes cannot be forced to face investigation.”

Roque insisted that there is “no basis” to say that the new law unduly expands the powers of the police, stressing that non-compliance to the subpoena will not mean an arrest or imprisonment.

Hindi po automatic na magpapakulong iyan; kapag hindi sinuway ang subpoena power, kailangan pa pong pumunta sa hudikatura, sa korte para po mapakulong iyong ayaw humarap sa imbestigasyon,” Roque said. 

(It’s not automatic imprisonment, if you defy the subpoena, they need to go to the court to jail you.)

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Lian Buan

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