A survivor of a Philippine police raid that killed four other drug suspects asked the Supreme Court Thursday to stop such operations and help him obtain police records to prove his innocence in a test case against the president’s bloody crackdown.
Lawyer Romel Bagares said his client Efren Morillo and other petitioners also asked the court to order police to stop threatening witnesses.
Four policemen shot Morillo and four other men in impoverished Payatas village in metropolitan Manila in August. Morillo survived and denied police allegations that he and his friends were drug dealers or that they fought back, according to Bagares and the court petition.
Morillo, a 28-year-old vegetable vendor and the four slain men, were garbage collectors who were shot with their hands bound and could not have possibly threatened police, the petition said.
Three of the victims were ordered to kneel on the ground at the back of the shanty before they were shot to death. The last to be killed “begged to be spared, hugging the legs of one of the armed men and sobbing. As he would not let go of his hold, the man shot him on the nape,” the petition said.
If the court grants Morillo’s petition to indefinitely stop such drug raids in the Payatas community and help him obtain police surveillance records and other documents, it will encourage relatives of drug raid victims and human rights groups to take legal action against the anti-narcotics police.
According to Bagares, police kill drug suspects then make it appear the victims died while fighting back.
“Because he survived the attack of the perpetrators and identified each and every one of them, his life is in grave danger,” Bagares said in his petition, which asked the court to prohibit the police officers from entering an area 5 kilometers (3 miles) from the homes and workplaces of Morillo and other petitioners, who include the other men’s relatives.
Police officials did not immediately comment on the court petition. National police chief Ronald Dela Rosa told a Senate inquiry Thursday that he opposes suggestions to temporarily stop Duterte’s crackdown against illegal drugs due to allegations of extrajudicial killings and other abuses.
While acknowledging that some rogue police may have illegally killed innocent people, Dela Rosa stressed that 33 officers had been killed and more than 100 others wounded in clashes with drug suspects.
The Senate hearing was looking into the killing in October of a South Korean businessman. He was kidnapped by police with the intent of getting ransom from his family but ended up dead at the national police headquarters, police said. After killing the victim, the officers, including two members of an anti-narcotics force, collected ransom from the wife, police said.
The Philippine government has apologized to South Korea for the killing, which has alarmed Korean officials. Dela Rosa said the national police has been shamed but told senators “it’s an isolated case.”
Philippines: Human Rights Watch director Phelim Kline also said the numbers of fatalities in the drug war launched by President Rodrigo Duterte when he assumed office on June 30, 2016, are “appalling but predictable” since he (Duterte) vowed to “forget the laws on human rights.”
Video Shows Philippine Police Planting Drugs on Innocent People, Extorting Money in “Shakedowns”
MANILA, Philippines – Dressed in civilian clothes, the policemen entered an office and planted illegal drugs in the desk drawers of employees. Then a “raiding team” came in.
The scenes were from a series of closed-circuit television (CCTV) footage that Sen. Panfilo Lacson showed as an example of how some policemen were engaging in “tokhang for ransom” or extortion cases under the guise of the war against drugs.
At the Supreme Court yesterday, a survivor and the families of four drug suspects killed in a drug operation in Payatas, Quezon City in August last year sought a writ of amparo and temporary protection order (TPO) preventing police officers from entering their area.
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.
Lacson said the incident captured on CCTV took place on Oct. 26, 2016 at a location he declined to disclose in public because the victims were afraid to report the matter.
In one of the clips, a man carrying a backpack was seen entering the office and planting what Lacson said was “shabu” in the drawers of the employees.
Shortly after, the “raiding team” came in, causing a commotion among the employees. Two other clips showed the suspects hitting some of the employees.
The final clip showed the suspects rounding up the employees inside a small room.
Lacson said the suspects even stole various items worth P7 million and then asked the owner of the business to cough up another P2 million.
“These are SOTG. Special Operations Task Group. There are officers here and not just PNCOs (police non-commissioned officers),” Lacson said.
“They (victims) are so scared that they don’t want to complain. Trust is something you should earn. It cannot be demanded. You cannot just tell the victims to report (the incident).You should show them that you are able to address their problems. Kakalat ‘yan eh,” Lacson said.
He said there were more extortion cases involving members of the PNP and he could prove them.
Lacson, chairman of the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs, presented the footage during an inquiry into the kidnap-slay of Korean businessman Jee Ick-joo.
The Korean is believed to have been a “tokhang for ransom” victim as policemen allegedly demanded money from his family to avoid getting charged for illegal drugs.
Lacson said the case of Jee, which started as an extortion attempt and ended with his murder, was unprecedented.
He said there were other cases that were similar in nature but did not lead to the deaths of the victims.
The Movement for the Restoration of Peace and Order head Teresita Ang See told Lacson there were at least 12 cases involving rogue policemen, whose victims were all from mainland China.
Lacson detailed two of the cases, one which took place on Oct. 24, 2016 where the victim was taken from his home and brought to Pasay City by armed policemen.
The policemen asked the wife of the victim for P500,000 but because she could only produce P200,000, they charged him with violation of Republic Act 9165 and held him without bail.
Another case involved a certain Xiao Xin Min, a 46-year-old Chinese national who was kidnapped by eight heavily armed members of the PNP.
A total of P3 million ransom was demanded by the suspects, P1 million of which was paid by the victim’s brother who flew in from China with the cash.
Despite the payoff, Lacson said the victim was charged with an undisclosed case.
Lacson said the victims were reluctant to come forward out of fear of reprisal from the police.
“I said trust must be restored first. There was a time the Filipino-Chinese community, they were reporting kidnapping cases. But now we don’t have this anymore. So we need to restore trust before we can solve this issue,” Lacson said.
He said that administrative cases could be pursued but without any complainants, no criminal case can proceed.
Lacson told PNP chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa that it would take time to earn the trust of the civilian populace, especially the victims, and so he and his men would have to be proactive in dealing with these cases.
“Find conduits, hanap kayo ng padrino, how do you convince them to complain and solve it? That’s the only time that you will earn the trust of the people to voluntarily complain because something is being done. But once they do not see any results, they really won’t trust you,” he said.
Lacson said the police force was being ruined by these incidents.
He said the Jee case was indeed tragic and unfortunate, but enough for the police force to lose public trust and respect.
“Amid these appalling circumstances, we must ask ourselves: do our men in uniform live by the honor and pride of their police badges and outfits? Or should our people live in horror and fear, unsure of their safety, at the sight of police officers in their neighborhood and even in their homes?” Lacson said.
SC asked: Stop ‘Oplan Tokhang’
In the first case to challenge the so-called “Oplan Tokhang” after seven months of the Duterte administration, petitioners led by Efren Morillo, the survivor in the operation who is set to testify in the murder and frustrated murder charges against police officials, also sought issuance of a temporary restraining order (TRO) stopping the implementation of the anti-illegal drug operations of the police station covering their barangay.
They likewise asked the high court to direct the PNP to produce and allow inspection and reproduction of intelligence and surveillance reports, police blotters, coordination, video and all other official and unofficial documents involving police operations conducted on Aug. 21, 2016.
The petition was filed a day after Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno revealed that the perception of the rule of law in the country had diminished due to unresolved killings of drug suspects.
Petitioners said they sought relief from the SC to prevent further violation of their constitutional and human rights to life, liberty and security.
Morillo was joined by the families of slain drug suspects Marcelo Daa Jr., Raffy Gabo, Anthony Comendo and Jessie Cule in filing the petition through the legal assistance of the Center for International Law (CIL).
Named respondents in the petition were Dela Rosa, Quezon City Police District director Senior Supt. Guillermo Eleazar, QCPD Police Station 6 commander Supt. Lito Patay and several other policemen, namely Senior Insp. Emil Garcia, Police Officer 3 Allan Formilleza, POs 1 James Aggarao and Melchor Navisaga.
In filing the amparo petition, Morillo said he was fearing for his life as he was being tapped as vital witness in the cases being prepared against the police officials.
The 28-year-old vegetable vendor also cited the filing of charges of direct assault upon agents of persons in authority against him, which he insisted were trumped up allegations and clearly part of persecution by the perpetrators.
“The other petitioners suffer the same violation of their right to life, liberty and security. They are terrified for their own lives and the lives of their family members, relatives and loved ones because the perpetrators keep returning to intimidate and harass them into silence,” the petition stressed.
“They are violated in their own homes because the perpetrators freely barge in. They could not go to work because they are afraid to leave their children alone in their houses. Their lives are at a standstill,” petitioners alleged.
Petitioners further pointed out that the policemen in the actual operation – Garcia, Formilleza, Aggarao and Navisaga – were members of a police community precinct (PCP) that did not have operational jurisdiction in Barangay Payatas.
They alleged that the policemen hid this fact by fabricating death certificates of the four slain suspects showing that the incident took place in another barangay under their PCP’s jurisdiction.
The victims, according to CIL lawyers, were garbage collectors and scavengers in the dumpsite.
The CIL added in a statement they were preparing a more comprehensive petition to cover the nationwide scope of Oplan Tokhang.
Dela Rosa challenged the petitioners to prove in court the four people who were killed in that police operation were not drug personalities.
The alleged drug suspects died after they allegedly fought the
arresting officers. “As I have said, I will not defend the wrongdoings of policemen,” the PNP chief said.
He stressed not all anti-drug operations were the same as that of SPO3 Ricky Sta. Isabel’s case involving Jee.
Dela Rosa said Jee’s kidnapping and subsequent killing right inside PNP headquarters in Quezon City was an isolated case.
Eleazar said they would reopen the investigation and coordinate with the PNP-Internal Affairs Service (IAS) on the case and would abide by whatever the decision of the SC would be.
The QCPD chief did not defend the operatives but said he was inclined to believe the veracity of the report made by his men on what transpired that day.
“All of these could be subjected to investigation. I was not there… The presumption of regularity in operations is there unless… there is evidence (that there is something wrong with it), then it will not be tolerated. That is our official line,” he added.
Official police records showed the four named operatives were conducting Oplan Tokhang in the residence of Daa when the shootout ensued at 3:40 p.m.
Police said the suspects opened fire when they noticed the presence of operatives in the area, which led to their neutralization.
The fifth suspect, Morillo, was able to escape and seek medical assistance at a hospital in Montalban where he was eventually arrested and transferred to East Avenue Medical Center.
However, there was a discrepancy in terms of the place of occurrence, as the police said the shootout ensued at Group 9, Area B in Barangay Bagong Silangan but it also said in the same report that the encounter happened at Daa’s residence in Barangay Payatas B.
The QCPD later revised this initial report and said that the residence of Daa was actually in Bagong Silangan.
Still, both barangays are under the jurisdiction of the Batasan Police Station 6 of the QCPD.
Eleazar raised the possibility that the operatives were actually not operating under Oplan Tokhang but were conducting regular police operations at the time.
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