[EDITORIAL] #AnimatED: Committing abuse just made easier
It didn’t come like a thief in the night, this new law signed by President Rodrigo Duterte in March that gives subpoena powers to the chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the top two officials of the PNP’s Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG).
The House committee on public order and safety submitted its committee report on a consolidated bill proposing this more than a year ago, in January 2017. Days after that, the Senate already passed its version of the bill on final reading. Ten month laters, in November, it was the turn of the House to pass it. By December 6, both chambers had passed the measure, and Republic Act 10973 was ready for the President’s signature.
Between late 2016, when the original bills were filed, and various months of 2017, when these were deliberated upon and finally passed, the media missed how the proposal could be prone to abuse, given the impunity displayed by the police force under the Duterte administration, and especially in relation to its war on drugs.
Equally guilty, however, were the opposition lawmakers, whom the public would’ve expected to flag such potentially dangerous proposals. In the Senate, for example, Bill 1239, was approved on final reading without a hitch; the Senate secretary only had to read the title of the bill. Only Senator Ralph Recto objected to it. The usually vocal oppositionists – Bam Aquino, Leila de Lima, Franklin Drilon, Risa Hontiveros, and Kiko Pangilinan – voted for it.
Without the press and the political opposition making any noise about it, the human rights advocates were understandably silent or unaware.
The fact is, when the original bills were filed, the watchdogs were preoccupied: drug-related killings were happening left and right, and getting to the bottom of these cold-blooded murders could be taxing on anybody’s resources and willpower. Every day, it seemed, the most determined human rights defender was jolted by the brazenness of the President’s disdain for due process and the rule of law, empowering abusers among the uniformed ranks.
The bills were also presented in a rather benign way. This is not new, the Philippine Constabulary and the Integrated National Police (PC-INP) – forerunners of the PNP – already had this power, and we’re just returning it to them. This will strengthen the capacity of the CIDG to get witnesses and documents when investigating high-profile or big crimes since its current “invitations” could be ignored by the subject without the latter suffering any consequences.
Now that concerns are being raised about the law, PNP chief Ronald de Rosa says there’s no need for guidelines on how he and the CIDG bosses would use their subpoena powers – their conscience will dictate on that. These will be used only in extreme circumstances, Malacañang guarantees, and the poor shouldn't worry, this is just intended for the “well-learned” and the wealthy.
This is where the problem begins.
When Congress, during the administration of then president Corazon Aquino, passed the law creating the PNP, these subpoena powers were removed from the police precisely because they were abused by the PC-INP during Ferdinand Marcos’ time. These powers were utilized to round up activists.
Conscience? Who would find it easy to give the top cops the benefit of the doubt after thousands have been killed in the police’s anti-drug operations, the drug war, mostly those who had supposedly fought back? Surveys show most Filipinos believe extrajudicial killings are happening. In fact, 7 out of 10 are afraid they or people they know could become the next victims of EJKs.
And when cops are known to demand money from drug suspects so their names could be removed from the list of targets, or when barangay officials turn out to be submitting drug lists containing the names of political rivals and not actual drug suspects, how can we trust that the PNP bosses are making decisions based on sound information from the ground?
Then what makes for extreme circumstances? In the past, the police had moved in and killed suspected drug lord mayors Rolando Espinosa Sr and Reynaldo Parojinog in dawn raids. Would bloody encounters like these be avoided now that the PNP chief and the CIDG honchos can compel people to come to them and testify or provide documents? Or would we be seeing more such messy operations?
Would this power result in more airtight cases against big time criminals, like drug lords Kerwin Espinosa and Peter Lim, whom the justice department had just cleared? Or will this be used to create a semblance of a diligent probe to lend credibility to the dismissal of their cases?
And with the recent move of the Duterte government tagging dozens of activists, including a United Nations rapporteur, as terrorists, why would it be any comfort that the subpoena powers of the PNP would be used “only” on the “well-learned"? It could very well be a convenient legal cover for arbitrary arrests – just like during the time of Marcos, who had the PC-INP at his disposal.
And the wealthy? Let us see. We know what happened to suspected drug lord Peter Lim: cleared by the justice department, which did not bother to tell the PNP that their evidence was supposedly insufficient.
We wonder how they can even deliver the subpoena in gated subdivisions. While cops’ inspections of poor communities had led to deadly shootings a number of times, their “Tokhang” in Forbes Park and Magallanes Village reduced them to distributing flyers that listed the effects of illegal drugs and the contact numbers of authorities to reach for emergency cases.
But if and when the subpoena powers are indeed used to go after the big fish, or if they lead to abuse against the wealthy, we await how the well-off will take this. Amid the killings in the poor communities, the ABC classes have been consistently satisfied with Duterte’s performance, and their trust in him has remained at “excellent” levels.
Right now, we cannot just be decrying the possible return of despotism. We cannot just be urging vigilance and waiting for abuse to happen before we issue statements of condemnation and calls for demonstrations. The law got past us. Let’s get ahead and ask the Supreme Court, if it finds merit, to strike it down. – Rappler.com