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Kin of slain suspects ask SC to stop Oplan Tokhang in Payatas

Relatives of drug suspects killed in a Quezon City barangay have filed for a writ of amparo before the Supreme Court to seek protection from alleged police harassment.

The petitioners also asked the high court to suspend the PNP's Oplan Tokhang operations in Barangay Payatas and in all areas under the jurisdiction of Quezon City Police District Station 6 while the case was being heard.

The writ of amparo filed by the Center for International Law (Centerlaw), in behalf of the victims' families, is the first petition against the police's knock and plead strategy.

Named respondents to the petition were PNP chief Director General Ronald "Bato" Dela Rosa, Quezon City Police District (QCPD) director Chief Superintendent Guillermo Eleazar, QCPD station 6 commander Superintendent Lito Patay, Senior Inspector Emil Garcia, PO3 Allan Formilleza, PO1 James Aggarao and PO1 Melchor Navisaga.

"Five months after the killings, the policemen involved continue to sow terror at Group 9, Area B, Payatas, Quezon City, to intimidate and harass into a paralyzed silence an entire community that had witnessed their crime," the petition read.

"Composed mainly of informal workers, garbage collectors and scavengers, the powerless and poverty-stricken community is vulnerable to fear and pressure coming from men armed with guns and given the mantle of protection by no less than the government in their rampage in the name of the war on drugs," it added.

Writ of amparo

A writ of amparo is a remedy available to any person whose right to life, liberty, and security is violated or threatened with violation by an unlawful act or omission of a public official or employee, or of a private individual or entity.

Oplan Tokhang refers to the Philippine National Police's campaign of going house to house in communities to appeal to drug suspects to surrender and stop using and selling drugs.

However, it has been blamed for the killings of drug suspects who allegedly fight back when being accosted by police officers.

The PNP reported to have visited almost 6.9 million houses since it started its intensified campaign against illegal drugs in July last year, based on data released on Thursday morning.

The petition arose from a tokhang operation carried out by Garcia, Formilleza, Aggarao and Navisaga on August 21, 2016.

The policemen shot and killed four drug suspects, namely Marcelo Daa Jr., Raffy Gabo, Anthony Comendo, and Jessie Cule, following a raid on Daa's house at Group 9, Area B, Barangay Payatas, Quezon City.

A fifth victim, Efren Morillo, survived and is now a witness in the murder and frustrated murder cases being readied against the policemen, according to the Center for International Law (Centerlaw) which represents the petitioners in the case.

Morillo is the lead petitioner in the case. He is joined by Martino Morillo, Victoria Morillo, Ma. Belen Daa, Marla Daa, Maribeth Bartolay, Lydia Gabo, Jennifer Nicolas and Marilyn Malimban.

Fabricated story

The petition said the police “fabricated" a story that the fatalities were caught during a drug session.

It also said the policemen indicated that the operation happened in Group 9, Barangay Bagong Silangan, Quezon City when it actually took place in Daa’s house at Group 9, Area B, Barangay Payatas, Quezon City.

“Thus, respondents (QCPD policemen) had no authority to conduct ‘oplan tokhang’ in Barangay Payatas, where the incident occurred. It is thus quite obvious that they fabricated evidence to make it appear that they had jurisdiction to conduct ‘Oplan Tokhang’ operations where the incident occurred," the petition said.

“Otherwise, if it were indeed a legimate operation, there is no need to lie about the place of the incident,” it added.

The petition urged the SC to issue an order prohibiting respondents and Quezon City policemen from entering within a radius of five kilometers of the residences and work addresses of petitioners.

It also asked the SC to direct the PNP to produce and permit the inspection and copying or photographing of intelligence and surveillance reports, police blotters, coordination, video and all other official and unofficial documents and material pertaining to the police operations on the day of the incident.

Palace welcomes petition

Malacañang welcomed a petition for a writ of amparo at the Supreme Court to suspend Philippine National Police's Oplan Tokhang operations in Quezon City and protect the families of those who died from harassment and intimidation amid President Rodrigo Duterte's drug war.

"Let's follow the legal process," Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella told reporters in Malacañang.

"The President allows all these things. He is very allowing right? Even the protests, he will allow that basta it comes, again, from a collegial position. Pantay-pantay tayo," he added.

Abella maintained that the government is not into extrajudicial killings linked to the PNP's war on drugs.

"Of course. We're not into that. I mean really, we're not into that," he said.

Dela Rosa, meanwhile, said stopping Oplan Tokhang would only worsen the drug problem.

“Bakit ipapahinto ang Tokhang? Para babalik na naman ang drug problem natin na malalang malala, yun ang gusto n’yong  mangyari,” he said.

But he welcomes any suit filed by those who experienced abuses of police personnel.

“I-prove nila yan sa court kung merong ganung pangyayari,” he said. —with a report from Trisha Macas and Amita Legaspi/NB, GMA News