Court affirms protection for spouse of drug victim

PHILIPPINE STAR/ MICHAEL VARCAS

THE PHILIPPINE Supreme Court has affirmed an appellate court ruling that sought to protect the spouse of a victim of a drug-related killing by police officers.

In a statement on Monday, the tribunal said its Second Division had seen the death of Christina M. Gonzales’s husband Joselito as an extralegal killing by rogue cops.

“After examining the totality of the evidence, the Supreme Court found that threats to the life of Christina were indeed present, and that the Court of Appeals’ issuance of the writ of amparo was proper,” it said.

The Writ of Amparo is a legal remedy available to anyone whose right to life, liberty, and security is violated by a public official or worker.

Data from the Philippine government released in June 2021 showed that at least 6,117 suspected drug dealers had been killed in police operations as of April 2021. Human rights groups estimate that as many as 30,000 suspects died.

The policemen had asked the High Court to reverse the appellate court’s decision, which they accused of gravely abusing its authority.

In 2015, Antipolo City cops arrested the couple for alleged drug trafficking, but they were eventually released after paying P50,000 demanded by arresting officers. A year later, Mr. Gonzales was shot and killed during an encounter with a policeman.

The tribunal had yet to post a copy of the decision written by Justice Jhosep Y. Lopez on its website.

“The fact that the respondent (Christina) and Joselito were previously arrested for selling illegal drugs is beside the point,” it said, citing the ruling.

“As stated earlier, even if the respondent committed a crime, the petitioners, as law enforcement agents, are not at liberty to disregard the respondent’s constitutionally guaranteed rights to life, liberty, and security,” it added.

Last week, the Department of Justice (DoJ) said government prosecutors had dismissed for a lack of witnesses six of 52 cases against cops embroiled in drug raid killings.

The agency had only brought five cases involving 150 police officers to court since it started its own investigation last year.

President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. on Monday said the Philippine National Police (PNP), which human rights groups have accused of executing drug suspects, should be accountable when enforcing the law to ensure public rapport and support.

“The use of force must always be reasonable, justifiable and only undertaken when necessary,” he said at a ceremony marking 121 years of police service.

The International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines last week urged the International Criminal Court (ICC) to pursue its investigation of the Philippine government’s deadly war on drugs after Mr. Marcos’ decision not to rejoin the international tribunal.

In a statement, the group said the president’s decision shields his predecessor, former President Rodrigo R. Duterte and his agents from prosecution and showed intent to continue the crimes.

“The International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) is extremely disappointed but not surprised by the new Marcos administration’s decision to keep the Philippines outside the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court,” Chairman Peter Murphy said. “This is part of the continued and ongoing state cover-up of crimes against humanity.”

The group said the ICC would be impartial in case it continues its probe of Mr. Duterte’s anti-illegal drug campaign that has killed thousands.

The ICC should probe the Duterte administration for alleged crimes against humanity so that justice may be served and impunity ended.

The Hague-based tribunal on July 14 gave the Philippines until Sept. 8 to comment on the ICC Office of the Prosecutor’s request to resume the probe into alleged crimes against humanity by Mr. Duterte and his officials. It also allowed victims to make written submissions through their lawyers.

Mr. Marcos, a close political ally of the Dutertes, has said the Philippines would not rejoin the ICC. Mr. Duterte canceled Philippine membership in the international court in 2018.

Former national police chief Ronald M. dela Rosa, the main enforcer of the drug war and now a senator, said the probe is an insult to the Philippine Justice system. He said he would not cooperate with the investigation.

The ICC, which tries people charged with crimes against humanity, genocide, war crimes and aggression, suspended its probe of the anti-illegal drug campaign last year upon the Philippine government’s request.

In a 53-page request to the international court’s pre-trial chamber, ICC Prosecutor Karim Ahmad A. Khan said the Philippines had failed to show it investigated crimes related to the campaign.

He said the chamber should issue an order on an “expedited basis.” It should “receive any further observations it considers appropriate from victims and the government of the Philippines,” he added.

Several human rights groups have urged Mr. Marcos to rejoin the ICC and to work closely with the tribunal in its probe of Mr. Duterte’s anti-illegal drug campaign. — John Victor D. Ordoñez

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