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Lacson, Gordon cold to Senate probe of bloody PNP anti-drug campaign

Senators want law enforcement bodies to have first crack at inquiries
Senators Richard Gordon and Panfilo Lacson. INQUIRER FILE PHOTOS

Senators Richard Gordon and Panfilo Lacson. INQUIRER FILE PHOTOS

MANILA — Returning Senators Richard Gordon and Panfilo Lacson are cold to the idea of having the Philippine National Police, now headed by Director General Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa, undergo a congressional investigation over the spate of deaths of drug pushing suspects during the PNP’s drug buy-busts, raids and surveillance operations.

Gordon believes that the police force must be the first to hold an internal investigation of any violation of the law alleged to have been committed by cops.

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Lacson, a former PNP director general himself, said the investigation, intended to be spearheaded by Senator Leila de Lima, a former justice secretary, might turn out to be a “spectacle” and break the momentum of what has been shaping up as an effective anti-drug war by President Duterte. (Thousands of drug users and pushers, fearing they would lose their lives in a hardline drive against drug syndicates, have voluntarily surrendered to the police in different parts of the country for drug rehabilitation and reformation.)

“We don’t want to precipitate a legislative-executive war right away based on a woman’s caprice. It’s whimsical,” Gordon said in an interview late Tuesday afternoon.

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The senator’s remarks were in apparent reference to De Lima, who had vowed to investigate the killings amid President Duterte’s anti-drug campaign.

“The Senate would otherwise be going after anything and everything,” he said.

Leila De Lima

Senator Leila De Lima
INQUIRER FILE PHOTO / NINO JESUS ORBETA

De Lima last week vowed to investigate the string of deaths of drug suspects in police operations and vigilante-style slays— a bloody trend since the election of Mr. Duterte, known for his heavy-handed approach to stopping criminality, even during his days as Davao City mayor.

The former justice secretary and human rights chief said there were “tell-tale signs of summary executions” in many of the cases, finding it impossible that most of those slain had grabbed police officers’ firearms while already in custody.

She said the investigation would endeavor to institutionalize proper police procedure in anti-crime operations.

But Gordon believes De Lima’s call may have been too soon. He said the Philippine National Police Internal Affairs Service would be the right office to check if there were violations of police operating procedure.

“This will embarass the Senate. We’re shooting from the hip,” Gordon said, adding that the Duterte administration has just been weeks-old.

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Neophyte Sen. Risa Hontiveros, meanwhile, expressed support for the investigation as she expressed concern for the deaths.

“I am extremely concerned over the spate of extrajudicial killings happening all over the country. I am worried that lawless elements and public officials with less commitment to the rule of law are taking advantage of the government’s anti-crime campaign to cover up higher crimes,” she said in a statement Wednesday.

She said a Senate investigation would help at “preventing [the anti-crime campaign” from being hijacked by vested interests while safeguarding the rights of all citizens.”

“I therefore support any legislative inquiry that will seriously look into the cases of extrajudicial killings and summary executions allegedly done in the name of fighting crime,” said Hontiveros, who like De Lima ran under the Liberal Party’s senatorial slate.

But Lacson warned of a spectacle, that has been the modus operandi of many legislative hearings, and a “fishing expedition” that might break the “momentum” in the aggressive anti-drug campaign of the Duterte administration.

Lacson said any alleged abuses in the police campaign could be investigated by the Commission on Human Rights, and if needed, the Department of Justice and the National Bureau of Investigation.

Speaking at the Kapihan sa Manila Bay forum, he said these investigating bodies would be in better position to launch inquiries, instead of the Senate.  For one, only these investigating bodies could get hold of concrete evidence of wrongdoing and appreciate their evidentiary value, Lacson said.

“If we (in the Senate) come in, we will be a spectacle, with PNP director general Ronald de la Rosa and the crying relatives there. Let the law enforcement do their thing,” Lacson said.

A congressional inquiry would just be a fishing expedition, he added.

Lacson said he did not want the Senate to be the reason for the anti-drug campaign to lose its momentum.

He cited the thousands of drug suspects surrendering to the police as proof of the momentum.

Despite his misgivings about a congressional investigation, Lacson acknowledged that authorities must look into the deaths of a father and his son, both drug suspects, at the Pasay City police detention cell last week, adding the circumstances surrounding their deaths were just too strange and suspicious.

The two men were arrested for illegal drug possession but were shot dead by their police escort who claimed they tried to overpower him.

While he believed that the Senate must always fulfill its duty to investigate matters that would have impact on legislation, any inquiry must have the consensus of the senators.

He said senators must first hear out De Lima’s justification on why the Senate would be the competent body to investigate the deaths of drug suspects.  SFM

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