Initial tokhang documents show lack of genuine probe into killings – lawyers

Lian Buan

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Initial tokhang documents show lack of genuine probe into killings – lawyers

Wynona Andrea "Wanda" Domingo

'It appears that not much effort has been placed into identifying and arresting the assailants, based on the length of time devoted to investigating the case,' says human rights lawyer and former SC spokesman Ted Te

MANILA, Philippines – The Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) said on Thursday, April 4, that initial drug war documents showed a lack of effort to investigate the killings committed under the mantle of Oplan Tokhang.

“Investigation leaves much to be desired. While all cases indicate that investigations are ongoing, it appears that not much effort has been placed into identifying and arresting the assailants, based on the length of time devoted to investigating the case,” said FLAG’s Ted Te in a news conference on Thursday with FLAG chairman and opposition senatorial candidate Chel Diokno.

FLAG and the Center for International Law (CenterLaw) earlier filed petitions asking the Supreme Court (SC) to declare the war on drugs unconstitutional.

The SC ruled last Tuesday, April 2, to release to the two petitioners documents related to 20,322 killings by both vigilantes and police in the war on drugs.

Prior to this, FLAG was given copies of documents in 38 killings specified in the petitions. FLAG said so far, it has received documents related to 29 killings. (READ: Government, SC engage in tug-of-war over tokhang documents)

In the 29 cases it reviewed, FLAG said it found an initial pattern of lack of a genuine effort to solve the case.

Te said there were 3 cases where the investigator said there were no witnesses who could dispute the official account of the police involved.

“[But] there were witnesses to the killing who were arrested subsequent to the killing, but their statements were not included among the records provided,” said Te.

He added, “Those arrested are under police custody, and it is questionable whether they were even interviewed regarding the killing.”


In the 29 cases FLAG reviewed, police closed 14. In 5 of those closed cases, cops were absolved of criminal and administrative liability.

Te said they also noticed procedural lapses in the police conduct.

For one, Te said they found that police documents “use strikingly similar descriptions of killings.”

“Phrases appear almost uniformly across the different spot reports, incident reports, progress reports, investigation reports, and final investigation reports,” said Te.

The uniform phrases include the description of “nanlaban” or resisting with a gun, which goes: “…the suspect, upon sensing that he was transacting (or dealing) with police officers, suddenly drew his firearm and shot them but missed. Sensing that his life was in danger, the police officer returned fire.”

“The data supports in some way the anecdotal evidence that we have gathered from other sources how you have template or cut and paste ‘nanlaban’ cases,” Diokno said.

Is it possible that copy-pasting of phrases is normal practice for the cops, and not unique to the Duterte administration?

“Let’s just say they raised a lot of questions – every single case where you supposedly have to kill the suspect because he fought back, is unique in its facts, it cannot all be the same,” Diokno said.

War on drugs and the ICC

The Office of the Solicitor General said on Thursday that it will abide by the SC directive to release to petitioners the rest of the documents.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) is currently examining whether it has jurisdiction to take on alleged crimes against humanity committed by top officials of the Duterte adminstration, including President Rodrigo Duterte, in the drug war killings.

Jurisdiction will be established if the ICC determines that the Philippine justice system is unable or unwilling to investigate the crimes on its own.

Does the SC’s ruling to release the documents prove willingness and ability of Philippine courts?

“This case of ours is not a criminal case so it doesn’t involve the prosecution of any person. I don’t think it will have any kind of impact on the ICC jurisdiction,” Diokno said.

He said the ICC will look into the accountability of persons, while their petitions aim to attack the policy.

“Ang titingnan nila, [kung] puwede bang kasuhan ang Pangulo sa loob ng Pilipinas (They will look into whether the Philippine president can be sued in the country),”  Diokno said.

The Philippine president enjoys immunity from suit for the duration of his term. –

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Lian Buan

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