No probe yet on Matalam raid but PNP chief urges victims’ kin to file complaints

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 11 July) – The chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP) has not ordered a probe on the July 9 raid in Matalam, North Cotabato that left eight persons dead under alleged questionable circumstances, claiming no complaint has been filed but urged relatives of the victims and those in similar situations elsewhere to file formal complaints before the PNP’s Internal Affairs Service (IAS).

PNP Director-General Ronald dela Rosa told MindaNews Sunday afternoon that what happened in Matalam and other operations are contained in a report of the Scene of the Crime Operatives (SOCO) but “if there are complaints regarding any of these, we’re willing to entertain. We will not cover up. We will be conducting an investigation.”

Philippine National Police Director-General Ronald dela Rosa beside President Rodrigo Duterte at the assumption of command in Camp Crame, Quezon City on July 1, 2016. KIWI BULACLAC/Presidential Photographers Division
Philippine National Police Director-General Ronald dela Rosa beside President Rodrigo Duterte at his assumption of command in Camp Crame, Quezon City on July 1, 2016. KIWI BULACLAC/Presidential Photographers Division

Under RA 8551, the IAS, which has national, regional and provincial offices, is tasked to “conduct, motu proprio, automatic investigation,” among others, of incidents “where death, serious physical injury, or any violation of human rights occurred in the conduct of a police operation,” and “where the established rules of engagement have been violated.”

Also on Sunday, Jose Luis Martin Gascon, chair of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Jose Luis Martin Gascon told MindaNews that their regional offices have been tasked to “conduct fact-finding of any incident that suggests possible breaches in established protocols of law enforcement.”

Local Governments Secretary Ismael Sueno told MindaNews he has yet to receive a report on what happened in Matalam “but surely that should be investigated.”

Superintendent Maximo Sebastian, head of the raiding team from the Regional Police Office-12 said they came under heavy fire when they were about to serve the search warrants at 2:30 a.m. Saturday in Purok Islam, Barangay Poblacion in Matalam, North Cotabato but relatives of the eight persons who were killed in that operation claimed the victims could not have fired at the police because they were asleep and three of the eight had “surrendered” to the police station hours earlier.

Gascon said “the protocol being established by the National Task Force on EJK (Extrajudicial Killings) headed by Commissioner Gwen (Pimentel-Gana) is to instruct all Regional Offices to conduct fact-finding of any incident that suggests possible breaches in established protocols of law enforcement.” He said the Task Force “hopes to have a credible database of facts as far as is possible… it will instruct regional offices to monitor.”

PNP spokesperson Senior Supt. Jonardo Carlos on July 7 said at least 103 persons had been killed nationwide in encounters with the police and 5,845 persons arrested since the campaign against drugs was intensified on May 3.

Oplan TokHang

President Rodrigo Duterte had vowed during the campaign to stop illegal drugs and other forms of criminality within three to six months in office. He took his oath as the country’s 16th President and first Mindanawon to lead the nation at noon on June 30.

Police operations have intensified since Dela Rosa assumed the post of PNP chief on July 1 and implemented nationwide Oplan Tokhang (Toktok Hangyo or Knock and Plead), a campaign he launched while serving as police chief here from January 2012 to October 2013.

In Oplan “TokHang,” police officers knock on the doors of known users and pushers, supposedly based on a list coming from the barangay, and warn them to stop their illegal activities.

Instead of waiting for the police to knock on their doors, thousands of persons involved in the illegal drugs trade as users and pushers, apparently egged by their families, have flocked to police stations and offices of their local chief executives to “surrender,” go through a police profiling and sign an undertaking that they will stop doing their illegal activities.

Three of those who were killed in Matalam had “surrendered” to the police hours earlier.

“Presenting themselves to the police station is not a guarantee that they won’t do the same thing anymore. Others surrender for convenience,” Dela Rosa told MindaNews.

Last Sunday, a MindaNews report datelined Matalam quoted Mutin, an uncle of one of the slain victims, as saying they would have accepted their fate if after they surrendered to the police, they continued engaging in the illegal drugs trade but in this case, they were killed hours after they went to the police stations, had their photos and profile taken.

The report also said Tima Dali recalled that when the police arrived in their village, they barged into their house and killed her sons Aron, 30, and Malingko, 28, in their room. She said her sons “never fought, they were instantly shot even if they surrendered (hours earlier)” referring to how her sons went to the police station the night.

It added that Purok Islam leader Lydia Sakilan appealed to Duterte to look into the “injustice” because after the surrender “they were killed like animals few hours after, one by one in their respective houses.”

Ensuring no HR violations

MindaNews asked Dela Rosa in a press conference in Davao City on June 2 how he would ensure the police would not commit human rights violations in the conduct of their campaign against suspects in the illegal drugs trade. His reply: “We will see to it police operational procedures are being followed in every legitimate operation. Pag nakita nila na talagang decided ang police na upakan sila legally, legally, at maraming natutumba, siguro matatakot na sila” (If they see the police are really decided to pounce on them legally, legally, and many would fall, they will likely be afraid).

He said the police will be decisive because of the leadership. “Alam nila na kahit anong mangyari, di sila ilaglaglag kahig anong mangyari. Hindi leadership na iiwan sila” (They know that whatever happens, the leadership will not abandon them. They will not be left behind).

Sueno said: “we cannot ensure there will be no violation of human rights but if there are, we will investigate and do appropriate action.”

President Rodrigo Duterte himself had repeatedly assured the police he would be behind them.

In his inaugural address on June 30, he asked Congress and the Commission on Human Rights “and all others who are similarly situated, to allow us a level of governance that is consistent to our mandate. The fight will be relentless and it will be sustained.”

Duterte added that as a lawyer and former prosecutor, “I know the limits of the power and authority of the President. I know what is legal and what is not” and that his “adherence to due process and the rule of law is uncompromising.”

“You mind your work, and I will mind mine,” he said.

“Nuclear explosion of violence”

Jose Manuel “Chel” Diokno, chair  of the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) said Duterte’s war on crime “has spawned a nuclear explosion of violence that is spiraling out of control and creating a nation without judges, without law, and without reason.”

“Do we really want to give the man with the gun the power to judge who are criminals and to kill them? To decide who is bad and who is good, who deserves to live and who deserves to die? We might as well disband our courts, dissolve the Department of Justice, and abolish Congress. For there really is no need for law when the barrel of the gun dispenses justice,” Diokno siad.

He said Duterte has created “a bandwagon of hate – a mob mentality that not only condones but encourages the taking of lives ‘because they deserve it.’ Yes, drug pushers destroy lives. Yes, criminals behave like animals. But are those who kill them any better? And will the killing stop there?”

In a press statement on July 4, the National Union of Peoples Lawyers (NUPL) through its Secretary-General, Edre Olalia said the drug menace must stop but “the apparent serial summary executions of alleged street drug users or petty drug lords which appear sudden, too contrived and predictable must also stop.”

“The madness must stop. Quick fix savagery and abuse of power by law enforcers supposedly to quell criminality and drugs, which, wittingly or unwittingly, directly or indirectly, are encouraged, condoned or sanctioned, is a Frankenstein that will haunt us all over time. The cure may turn out to be worse than the illness,” the NUPL said.

“Human rights are not only for the criminals or dregs of society as some may think or believe. It is more to protect the far too many others who are innocent or turn out to be innocent. Enough already,” the statement added. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)