Free Legal Assistance Group lawyers on Thursday said the small fraction of police reports on the war on drugs they have reviewed bore a "strikingly" similar and almost "cut-and-paste" style of accounts of the killings.
Incomplete records, lapses in police procedure, and unidentified assailants also marked FLAG’s findings from reports on 29 cases related to their pending petition at the Supreme Court against the anti-illegal drugs campaign, human rights lawyers Theodore Te and Chel Diokno said at a press conference.
These records that Diokno said support the anecdotal evidence they have gathered, do not yet include the documents the High Court just last Tuesday ordered the Office of the Solicitor General to provide them copies of.
Until they see them, Diokno, a senatorial candidate, said it is “hard to say” if they would spot similar observations in the remaining papers.
But the expected documents “will indicate whether there was really compliance with the circular and they may even support our arguments that, on its face, the circular itself is void and unconstitutional,” he said, referring to the command memorandum circular that governs the police anti-illegal drugs campaign.
The OSG has vowed it will “faithfully abide” with the recent ruling.
FLAG and the Center for International Law, representing alleged victims and relatives of victims, are challenging the constitutionality of the drug war in consolidated cases that have already been submitted for resolution.
During the presentation, Te said the initial reports described the killings similarly, “almost verbatim” – the usual “nanlaban” narrative, where police officers' claim they fire at alleged drug suspects who fired at them first.
The seemingly “cut-and-paste” accounts raise questions because separate cases involve unique facts, said Diokno. “They cannot all be the same. So we are wondering why if every case is unique in its facts, why are the reports so similar in terms of their language?” he said.
He acknowledged the possibility that the police have been writing similar reports even before the drug war began, but said police are instructed to “state specific circumstances, not just generic explanations.”
Te also explained that contrary to procedure under law, “not a single illegal drug” seized in the operations was turned over to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency. They were instead given to the national police’s crime laboratory for testing.
In 13 cases, he said, the police conducted no inventory of the confiscated items. In at least eight others, the inventory lacked the required witnesses. The SC has recently acquitted a number of drug convicts for their arresting officers’ failure to follow this procedure, the chain of custody rule.
Te noted that police investigators recommended the closure of many of the cases. In five of them, the investigators recommended that the police officers involved be absolved of both criminal and administrative liability, he said.
“Investigation into the killings leaves much to be desired,” he said.
“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, which ranged from several days to several months,” he added.
The government's deadly war on drugs has been questioned before the International Criminal Court (ICC), but the tribunal, which the country left last month, can only step in if local courts or unable to willingly investigate such cases on its own.
Asked if the recent SC ruling for the release of the rest of the police reports will show the ICC that Philippine courts are functioning, Diokno said he thinks the decision will not have "any kind of impact on ICC jurisdiction," because their case is not a criminal case against specific persons.
However, he said a possible issue the ICC may consider is the president's immunity from suit, which protects him from prosecution in the Philippines while he is in power. —LBG/MDM, GMA News