MANILA, Philippines — A month before the Calbayog City police requested the names of lawyers representing communist rebel suspects from a local court, the police in the northern Philippines had been asking local judges for arrest warrants in archived cases as part of their counterinsurgency and anticrime campaign, the Inquirer learned on Saturday.
A court in northern Luzon and another in Central Luzon separately received a letter from the Philippine National Police in February asking for unserved warrants, according to a judge who spoke with the Inquirer on condition of anonymity.
The judge characterized the move by the PNP as a possible “fishing expedition” similar to the request for a list of lawyers for “personalities” of “communist terrorist groups” made by the Calbayog police intelligence chief Lt. Fernando Calabria Jr.
The judge explained that the police were essentially requesting “alias warrants,” which are issued by a court after the police fail to apprehend the subject of the original arrest warrant.
Cases where suspects have not been arrested and presented to the court prevent a trial from proceeding and these would be archived.
Alias warrants are reissued warrants to give law enforcers another chance to apprehend accused persons who were not caught under the original warrant.
“It’s unclear [how and why] it is going to be used. … Even if I gave everything, it would still be like a fishing expedition,” the judge said.
Moreover, local police cannot simply request copies of warrants for all archived cases, especially in the context of counterinsurgency efforts and applying that request to all courts.
The prudent way, the judge said, would have been to ask permission from the Supreme Court to give the tribunal a chance to evaluate the merits of the request.
The police might have requested the warrants “to test the waters … hoping that we would see it as just a harmless request and part of our job to issue it.”
Apology for ‘serious breach’
Lt. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar, the officer in charge of the PNP, declined to comment pending an investigation of the alleged requests.
But the police official apologized for the attempt by the Calbayog police intelligence office to get the names of lawyers representing communist rebels, saying the action by Calabria was a “serious breach of policy.”
Asked what policy was breached, Eleazar told the Inquirer: “There are some rules that we observe in dealing with the judiciary and other government agencies, particularly with the other pillars of the justice system. With his (Calabria’s) position and the nature of his request, it is clearly intrusive on his part.”
He ordered Calabria relieved.
Eleazar, the PNP deputy chief of administration, temporarily heads the national police while PNP chief Debold Sinas is in quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19.
“We fully understand the sentiments of the members of the legal community and for this, I, on behalf of the men and women of the Philippine National Police, sincerely apologize for this reckless behavior,” Eleazar said in a statement on Saturday.
“Our apology comes with an assurance to the judiciary and the members of the legal community that it is not and will never be the policy of the [PNP] to run after or even inflict harm on lawyers and members of the judiciary while performing their sworn duty,” he said.
The PNP said it would check whether similar requests were made by PNP units in other parts of the country and would investigate “to determine up to what level of police hierarchy is involved in this incident.”
No order from the top
But Eleazar denied the PNP top brass had issued any order pertaining to the request, noting that they “will never tolerate such unprofessional method of information gathering.”
He said the PNP would not condone “any irresponsible and unprofessional act” in its campaign against the communist insurgency.
The March 12 letter to the Calbayog City Regional Trial Court (RTC) said the list was in “compliance from PNP higher offices” to which it would be submitted.
Calabria, however, denied he sent the letter, which Supreme Court spokesperson Brian Keith Hosaka had confirmed was received by the Calbayog RTC.
“The signature in that letter is an electronic signature which I do not have,” Calabria told the Inquirer on Friday night.
Eleazar dismissed his denial, telling the Inquirer that according to Police Brig. Gen. Rolando de Jesus, the Eastern Visayas regional director, the letter was confirmed to have come from Calabria.
Calabria’s actions created a swarm of denunciations from lawyers and lawmakers.
DOJ chief objects, too
Even Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra echoed calls for the protection of the legal community, saying the profiling of lawyers representing suspected communist insurgents was illegal.
“Lawyers are professionals and are not directly or personally involved in the causes that they represent,” Guevarra told the Inquirer on Saturday.
The letter from the Calbayog police was “totally out of line and completely bereft of any statutory or legal basis,” he said.
House Assistant Majority Leader and Rizal Rep. Fidel Nograles, who is also a lawyer, said the PNP should keep its hands off lawyers and the courts.
He said in a statement that “lawyering is not a crime, regardless of who you represent.”
“We cannot condone this overreach by the Calbayog City police, which undermines the administration of justice through intimidation, hidden behind the veil of courtesy and pseudolegality,” he said.
Calabria’s request came a week after lawyer Angelo Karlo Guillen, the secretary general of the Panay chapter of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers who had been Red-tagged like his clients, survived an attack by unidentified assailants who fled with his laptop and case files.
Bayan Muna chair Neri Colmenares demanded that Sinas reveal Calabria’s superiors who gave the order to list lawyers representing activists in court and sack them.
“You cannot just sacrifice a lieutenant. How about the one who ordered him? He should be sacked as well for ordering Calabria, who just followed orders,” Colmenares said.