Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief Ronald “Bato” de la Rosa warned the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) on Tuesday against “fishing” for rogue policemen to serve as witnesses to extra-judicial killings.
De la Rosa told reporters churchmen could end up getting policemen of questionable credibility in an effort to cast blame on the Duterte administration for extra-judicial killings linked to the war on drugs.
“We are talking about testimonies. How would a testimony be credible if the source is questionable?” de la Rosa said.
The PNP chief made the statement a day after Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, the outgoing CBCP president, bared that a number of conscience-stricken policemen had sought the Church’s protection and would testify on alleged summary killings.
“They have expressed their desire to come out in the open about their participation in extra-judicial killings and summary executions. Their consciences are troubling them,” Villegas said in a statement on Monday.
‘Profile check needed’
De la Rosa said the CBCP chief should first conduct a profile check on the policemen seeking Church protection.
“What is there basis? I hope they won’t make a fishing expedition out of it,” de la Rosa said.
Villegas said on Monday his diocese’s “ministry of mercy” was willing to provide sanctuary to the policemen, but stressed that they must possess evidence of their allegations.
De la Rosa urged the CBCP not to “set an agenda” on the police force by “arousing other cops” to come out.
Police testimonies on extra-judicial killings, he argued, should be reserved to investigative venues like the Senate.
“If it is true, present it to the Senate. No problem. Get an affidavit present in the Senate. Don’t make a fishing expedition out of this by saying things like this to arouse other people to go there (Church),” de la Rosa said.
De la Rosa cited Vincent Tacorda, a resigned Catanduanes policeman who had recanted his earlier testimony that police officers were planting evidence on suspects killed during anti-drug operations.
“We should be truthful. As I have said, we are the ones affected. Don’t make fabricated lies. The truth is important,” de la Rosa said.
As for the policemen now with Church leaders, de la Rosa said they could be considered “absent without official leave” or AWOL.
“If they would go [to the Church]to hide, and they are not reporting for duty, then they would be considered AWOL,” de la Rosa said.
Safety needed – Poe
Sen. Grace Poe reiterated her statement on Monday welcoming policemen seeking Church sanctuary to be able to testify on the drug killings, and said their safety should be guaranteed.
“It’s very difficult to be a whistleblower. We haven’t passed the Whistleblowers’ Act…I hope the Whistleblowers’ Act will finally hurdle the Senate and Congress to provide funding for witness protection and a process for those who want to come out. They can’t live in the church, right?” she told reporters on Tuesday.
Poe agreed with the PNP chief that police witnesses should be vetted.
“We have to. Seeking refuge in the Church doesn’t mean you’re telling the truth,” the lawmaker said.