Lawyers petition drug war as unconstitutional at Philippine Supreme Court

Lawyers argued in Tuesday's Supreme Court hearing that the word 'neutralise' could be misinterpreted by police officers to mean 'kill'

Johanna Chisholm
November 22, 2017

Lawyers argued in Tuesday’s Supreme Court hearing that the word ‘neutralise’ could be misinterpreted by police officers to mean ‘kill’

People allegedly involved in illegal drugs are lined up for interrogation during an operation against illegal drugs by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) in the Philippines on November 7, 2017 Photo: Mark R Cristino/EPA

On Tuesday afternoon, Supreme Court justices in the Philippines began hearing oral arguments petitioning the Philippine National Police (PNP) and President Rodrigo Duterte’s highly criticised anti-drug campaign, which human rights groups have unofficially labeled a ‘bloody drug war’, as unconstitutional.
In the 16-months that Duterte’s war on drugs campaign has been in operation, approximately 3,900 people have been killed in what police officers argue is self-defense against accused drug users who resist arrest, but what family members and human rights watchdogs are calling executions.
During the court proceedings, lawyers from the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) petitioned that the raids where police enter the homes of suspected drug users without a warrant and then proceed to ‘neutralise’ the individual is in violation of the Filipino constitution.
“That could be subject to misinterpretation by the policeman on the ground,” said FLAG lawyer Jose Manuel Diokno. He added that the specific choice to use the word ‘neutralise’ could be misconstrued on the ground to mean ‘kill’.

In addition to the petition of extrajudicial killings, the lawyers from FLAG also argue that the PNP’s policy of allowing police officers to enter homes without a warrant and to begin a case build-up against people who refuse the entry of officers fell outside what they uphold as being constitutional.
“When the police conduct case build-up just because you refuse entry, that violates the right to privacy because you may refuse entry, correct?” the Supreme Court justice Antonio Carpio asked the FLAG counsel, to which they affirmed that the act violated a presumed innocent person’s right against unreasonable search and seizure.
In rebuttal to the counsel’s claims, the chief government lawyer, Jose Calida, stated that the petition was “marred by speculation, unfounded information and unsubstantiated arguments”. He added that the acting officers in the anti-drug campaign never received instructions to kill drug users.
Despite Calida’s attempts to silence the counsel’s accusations that extrajudicial killings are taking place in the anti-drug campaign, one cannot forget that Duterte himself has come out and contradicted his own allies’ objections to the murders.
In a speech delivered last month to a business group, Duterte admitted that he had in fact seen extrajudicial killings taking place on television.
“Now are there extrajudicial killings? Yes, that is why on the day I saw (it on) TV, I ordered the police to detain the three policemen,” said Duterte in reference to a case where a child was killed by policemen.
In the day before the petition was actually filed, President Duterte released an order stating that he was removing the police from the anti-drug campaign and was instead assigning the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) to takeover.
He added, however, that should the crime rate and the drug use in the country start to rise, he would once more recruit the police to take part in the nation’s drug war.

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