MIN0RITY senators on Friday decried the illegal search conducted at 10 p.m. on Wednesday by Police operatives from the Quezon City Police District-Anonas on customers of three resto-bars along Katipunan Avenue several hours after Ateneo de Manila University students expressed their stand against extra judicial killings (EJKs).
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, said the minority bloc is united against scare and intimidation tactics of various government agencies especially those that target the Filipino youth.
“We are standing to defend our democracy and the rights of every Filipino to express themselves and disagree with the government or any of its policy,” the minority bloc said in a statement.
Minority senators were referring to an incident Wednesday night wherein police officers conducted “Oplan Bakal” (surprise anti-contraband campaign) on three establishments along Esteban Abada, near Ateneo de Manila University in Quezon City.
Customers of the establishments were asked to open their bags in order for police officers to search them for illegal firearms or illegal drugs.
Police claimed they sought the permission of the establishment owners before they conducted the search.
A day after the inspection, an owner of one of the the establishments inspected, posted an announcement on Facebook clarifying that “there is no association of bar owners in Katipunan, and there was no coordination between surrounding establishments and the QCPD to search students and customers” of the bar.
The search was conducted on the same day members of the Ateneo Blue Babble Battalion during their half-time performance at the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) Season 80 Men’s Basketball game against the University of the Philippines (UP) made a political statement against EJKs and the move of the House of Representatives to cut the budget of the Commission on Human Rights to P1,000 a year.
The Senate minority bloc insisted that the police operation was illegal because police officers could only conduct such search by virtue of a search warrant.
Senators were also convinced that the inspections were meant to intimidate the public which they said is a form of harassment.
It is not also the first time police tried to harass those who have expressed opposition against EJK. On August 24 while Ateneo students and teachers staged a rally to condemn the killing of 17-year-old Kian Loyd de los Santos, a police mobile with no license plates stopped in front of protesters and asked for their names.
“We call on Quezon City Mayor Herbert Bautista to act against this type of police harassment on students who were just expressing their sentiments,” the minority bloc added.
Sen. Francis Escudero, meanwhile, reminded authorities that “Oplan bakal” is not an exemption to a warrantless search.
Escudero, a member of the Senate majority bloc said probable cause is required before police officers can be allowed to conduct warrantless searches.
“They (policemen) can only do ‘plain view’ which is similar to the rules re check points,” he explained.
“Oplan bakal” dates back to 2012, wherein authorities would conduct surprise inspection among customers inside bars for possible presence of illegal weapons or drugs.
Dry run for martial law?
Meanwhile, the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) wondered if the QCPD’s random inspections of bars along Katipunan Avenue was a dry run for the declaration of martial law.
“Are we a full-fledged police state? Is this part of dress rehearsals or trial balloons for martial law?” NUPL President Edre Olalia said in a statement on Friday.
“These are patently illegal acts and openly unconstitutional. These are brazen violations of the right to privacy and the right against unreasonable searches and seizures,” Olalia added.
According to Olalia, there were only very specific instances when searches without warrants can be done, and they were all based on probable cause and not “mere suspicion, speculation or fishing expedition”.
Olalia listed the instances of valid searches even without warrants which included: search incidental to a lawful arrest, search of a moving vehicle which is the object to be seized, search of illegal objects in plain view (without the searching officer doing anything to discover it), searches voluntarily allowed, permitted or consented by the person to be searched (but not because of fear, subtle coercion or passive acquiesence), searches in customs for contraband and administrative searches upon entry like in places open to the public like malls.
WITH GLEE JALEA AND RJ CARBONELL