Rule by law

Published November 13, 2019, 12:33 AM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza & Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat



Jejomar C. Binay Former Vice President
Jejomar C. Binay
Former Vice President

Vice President Leni Robredo, who has been designated by the President as the country’s drug czar, quoted the officer-in-charge (OIC) of the Philippine National Police (PNP) as assuring her in a meeting that police anti-drug operations “will be in accordance with the rule of law.”

The last time a similar assurance was given was way back in June, after several United Nations (UN) personalities – described by one media outlet as constituting “the biggest names in human rights performing investigative tasks for the UN” – issued a joint statement asking the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) to conduct an “independent investigation” of so-called “unlawful” deaths in the anti-drug war.

The group raised concern over what it said was a rising number of killings in the Philippines carried out in “an apparent climate of official [and] institutional impunity.”

In response, the PNP chief at that time gave this assurance: “As far as the PNP is concerned, all our actions are governed by a set of operational procedures founded on the basic principles of respect for human rights and always consistent with the rule of law.”

He added: “There’s no such official or institutional impunity. Homicide cases with all sorts of motives cannot be categorized under the war on drugs. All deaths during anti-drug police operations have been properly investigated. “ Policemen found to have violated standard police procedures, he asserted, have been charged either administratively or criminally, or both, or dismissed from service.

The PNP chief who gave the assurance was Oscar Albayalde.

Four months after he made his statement, Albayalde would be exposed as having allegedly protected a group of policemen – described as “ninja cops” – who actively engaged in the recycling of seized illegal drugs. One witness even claimed that the former chief had admitted benefitting from the drug recycling racket of his former underlings. Albayalde resigned in disgrace barely weeks before his retirement.

So is the acting PNP chief merely repeating a hackneyed statement from the official police talking points? I tend to believe he is being sincere.

Note that the acting PNP chief used the modal verb “will,” which is used to denote future action. This is in contrast with the statement of the previous PNP chief who assured the UN rapporteurs that anti-drug operations “are” compliant with the rule of law.

The conclusion is that the acting PNP head is admitting that the anti-drug operations in the past were not in keeping with the rule of law.

If so, it validates the observation made by human rights lawyers that the rule “of” law has been replaced by rule “by” law, where the law is employed as a tool to justify or achieve unlawful and unjust ends.

Even a cursory appraisal of police conduct in the past three years would attest to this.

I may, of course, be mistaken. But my personal view is that the PNP leadership has taken its cue from the President himself. In my previous column, I acknowledged the President’s direct statement that the PNP could have committed the extra-judicial killing of a mayor in Cebu City as an epiphany. I urged the PNP to follow suit.

Now I can only conclude that the PNP has also seen the light. Henceforth, I expect that all their anti-drug operations will adhere to the rule of law, something they have failed to do in the past. And I would expect that such an admission would be followed by accountability. The policemen involved in the summary killings of suspected drug peddlers should be haled to court.

Or am I just being overly optimistic?

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