CONFLICT is brewing between Malacañang and some lawmakers as Solicitor General Jose Calida told police on Monday that they can ignore a congressional investigation of the rising number of drug-related killings.
In a news conference, Calida assured the 160,000-strong Philippine National Police (PNP) of protection as he taunted Sen. Leila de Lima and accused her of seeking “media mileage” when she called for a probe of the deaths of suspects in police anti-drug operations as well as vigilante slays last week.
The Solicitor General, who was with the PNP chief, Director General Ronaldo “Bato” de la Rosa, at Camp Crame in Quezon City, said de Lima ought to try shabu for herself and find out the effects of the illegal substance on the body.
He said he will find out why the illegal drug trade was left unchecked when de Lima was Justice secretary in the previous administration.
“If she truly is sincere [in stopping]this drug menace, let us ask her, what did she do as Justice secretary in-charge of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), the prosecution service and the Correctional [for Women]? This is not an investigation in aid of legislation,” Calida also told reporters.
Police operations enjoy the “presumption of regularity” unless evidence is presented otherwise, he argued.
“I am here to encourage the PNP not to be afraid of any congressional or Senate investigation. We will defend them,” Calida said.
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said the call for a probe, led by de Lima and Ifugao Rep. Teodoro Baguilat, had no basis, as there was no evidence of wrongdoing by police.
“[I]t appears as I can see it, there is no basis other than speculation and conjecture,” he also told reporters in Malacañang.
Panelo said that even the Commission on Human Rights is yet to order its own investigation.
“So any attempt therefore to conduct a Senate investigation by any member, especially of that particular senator who wants to conduct the investigation, may be viewed as an attempt to discredit the legitimacy of police operations by them against the drug menace,” he added.
‘Like Davao killings’
De Lima, who had headed the Commission on Human Rights, also on Monday said she only wanted to ensure that police in anti-illegal drug operations were doing their jobs within legal bounds.
She noted the lack of public outrage over the slays, which have exceeded 100 since the election of former Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte to the presidency.
The recent killings are similar to the situation in Davao City at the height of the operations of the “Davao Death Squad,” a vigilante group that had been linked by various investigations to Duterte, de Lima said.
“Napansin ko na wala talagang outrage from the community, from society na para sa akin nakakabahala po `yan [I noticed that there is really no outrage from the community, from society and for me that is very concerning],” she also told reporters.
Senate President Franklin Drilon backed de Lima, saying Calida’s remarks were “uncalled for and reek[ed]of arrogance, unbecoming a Solicitor general.”
The Supreme Court, according to Drilon, had repeatedly upheld the Senate’s power to conduct probes and compel government officials to attend.
“We will not hesitate to invoke the power of the Senate to compel the attendance of witnesses and resource persons if such attendance is necessary for the Senate to perform its constitutionally mandated function,” he said in a statement.
Senator Juan Edgardo Angara said he will join in any inquiry into the killings and the drug problem.
“There is a war being waged against drug pushers who have threatened our peaceful and lawful way of life. I hope the Senate inquiry will support our law enforcers in this war as well as ensure human rights of all are respected,” he added.
Angara said the probe does not aim to embarrass the police, but rather support law enforcement officials in their fight against the drug menace.
But Sen. Richard Gordon said the PNP should be left to do its job, noting that it is required by the PNP Reform and Reorganization Act of 1998 to conduct an investigation on cases when a police officer discharges a firearm, and on incidents where death, injury or violation of human rights are involved.
“The police or the PNP must conduct its own probe and there’s a law that says that. Let the law do its job. The law must be utilized. However, the police, in performing their duties, should respect the right of the citizenry,” he added.
The PNP chief on Monday said he is opposed to extra-judicial methods of anti-crime operations, particularly against illegal drugs.
“The PNP does not condone vigilantism. I, personally, will be vigilant against vigilantism,” de la Rosa added.