House silence over killings 'disturbing,' opposition says

MANILA, Philippines – Opposition lawmakers criticized both President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs and their own colleagues' silence over the spate of killings linked to it, in the face of outrage over the death of 17-year-old Kian Loyd delos Santos.

Delos Santos, a grade 11 student, was killed by the police in an alleged frame-up during anti-drug operations in Caloocan City. (READ: Our son, Kian: A good, sweet boy)

"Nakakabahala ang katahimikan ng Mababang Kapulungan. Maghain tayo ng resolusyon sa pag-imbestiga ng modus operandi ng Oplan Galugad," Ifugao Representative Teddy Baguilat said on Friday, August 18. (The silence of the Lower House is disturbing. Let’s file a resolution calling for an investigation into the modus operandi that is Oplan Galugad.)

Over the past week, police from Metro Manila and nearby provinces launched several anti-drug and anti-criminality operations. At least 81 drug suspects were killed and more than 100 arrested in different iterations of "one time, big time." 

Among those slain during the operations was Delos Santos because he supposedly fought back against police and was armed.

But witnesses claimed was he was handed a gun, told to run, and later shot dead. CCTV footage from the area showed he was dragged by two un-uniformed policemen into the corner where he was later found dead.

His death sparked outcry on social media and beyond. His family, including his OFW mother, insisted Kian had nothing to do with illegal drugs.

House probe?

"The Philippine National Police (PNP) has been terrorizing communities by violating each and every provision of the rules of engagement. Planting of evidence is now the rule of the game," said Caloocan 2nd District Representative Edgar Erice in a statement.

The Caloocan representative called on the Church and media "to actively help in exposing abuses."

Baguilat, the Liberal Party (LP)'s vice president for internal affairs, urged an investigation into apparent "extrajudicial killings (EJKs)."

"Bagamat hindi pinapansin ang ating mga naunang resolution sa calling for inquiry on EJKs, kinakailangan puwersahin pa rin natin ang House na magpa-imbestiga para maipahiwatig sa kapulisan at sa administrasyon na pansamantalang itigil muna itong TokHang ops at panagutan ang mga nagkasalang mga awtoridad," he said, referring to "Oplan Tokhang," a literal "knock and plead" operation to make alleged drug personalities surrender.

(Although our earlier resolutions calling for an inquiry on EJKs were not given attention to, there is a need to force the House to investigate these cases to express to the police and administration the need to temporarily halt TokHang operations and to hold responsible those who did wrong.)

The House of Representatives – composed of both district and sectoral or party list representatives – is dominated by a "supermajority" led by Duterte’s PDP-Laban.

Baguilat and Erice, both from the LP, are among a handful who openly call themselves opposition legislators.

While actively calling for a probe, Baguilat himself was quick to admit that "based on experience... the House is allergic to probe human rights violations or those politically damaging to the administration."

"However, just as the Bureau of Customs shabu scam is a testament to the failure of the anti-drug campaign, the killing of Kian and other children in the name of the anti-drug campaign should incite Congress to do a probe," he told Rappler.

In the Senate, now-detained Senator Leila de Lima, a member of the LP, began an investigation into supposed summary executions and EJKs in the drug war.

The probe later tackled Duterte alleged role in the so-called Davao Death Squad before De Lima herself was kicked out as committee chairperson.

Senator Richard Gordon, who took over De Lima’s post, would later conclude that the drug war deaths were neither Duterte- nor state-sponsored. Gordon has recently expressed alarm over the spate of drug war deaths.

The House has yet to act on resolutions filed – both from the majority and minority – to probe alleged EJKs.

Akbayan Representative Tom Villarin, an LP ally, noted that another victim from the series of operations was Jake Gueraldo, an Akbayan Youth member.

"This has to stop. Naging sanayan na lang ang pumatay. Parang balewala na ang buhay ng tao (Killing has been the norm. It's as if people’s lives no longer matter). Our police have turned into butchers," said Villarin.

The Makabayan bloc – composed of leftist legislators in the majority – also want to investigate the recent spate of killings.

Commission to probe?

Albay First District Representative Edcel Lagman, also a member of the LP, called on Duterte himself to "create immediately an independent fact-finding commission to thoroughly and impartially investigate the escalating summary killings related to the administration’s campaign against the drug menace."

Lagman wants the commission to be composed of former Supreme Court and Court of Appeals justices. "Police authorities cannot be entrusted with the investigation because police officers and personnel are involved, while the leadership of the Department of Justice is a partisan ally of the President," he said.

Presidents in the past have created special commissions to probe high-profile cases.

But Duterte himself has been criticized for supposedly egging on police to bend the way in the name of the war on drugs. The former Davao City mayor has also insisted that he will protect police from cases filed as a result of them doing their jobs.

Since the drug war started in July 2016, police have repeatedly been accused of resorting to extrajudicial means to supposedly hit their targets. PNP chief Ronald dela Rosa has denied these allegations.

On August 18, Dela Rosa apologized to the families of those killed during the drug operations while insisting that the safety of his own men and women were his primary concern.

The Palace, asked to comment on the death of Delos Santos, said on August 18 that it was an "isolated" case. A day later, a different Palace spokesman said the 17-year-old’s death was "deeply regrettable."

There have been cases of minors being mistakenly linked to illegal drugs and killed either during police operations or by unknown assailants. (LIST: Minors, college students killed in Duterte's drug war)

A campaign against illegal drugs was among Duterte's key campaign promises during the 2016 elections. He initially set a 3-6 month deadline for police to "eradicate" or at least suppress illegal drugs in the country. Duterte has since admitted, however, that the problem cannot be solved within his term. – Rappler.com