CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 13 April 2019

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Top Philippine court orders release of drug war death files

MANILA (UCAN): On April 2 the Philippine Supreme Court ordered the Office of the Solicitor-General to provide police reports to two human rights groups seeking the release of documents related to the killings of thousands of suspected drug users and dealers over the past three years.
 
The Free Legal Assistance Group and the Centre for International Law, which had requested the documentation on cases they were handling, welcomed the court order.
 
Human rights groups welcomed a Philippine Supreme Court order calling for the release of documents.
 
The Supreme Court had previously ordered the release of the documents in 2017, following public deliberations on the petitions, including a list of people killed in police drug raids. However, while the Office of the Solicitor-General had agreed to release the police documents to the court, it had rejected the groups’ requests, arguing that it would undermine law enforcement and national security.
 
The justices have yet to rule on a separate petition calling on the court to declare the anti-narcotics campaign ofg Philippine president, Rodrigo Duterte, unconstitutional.
 
Carmelite Father Gilbert Billena, whose parish has witnessed the killing of at least 38 suspected drug users, welcomed the court decision.
 
“In a climate of violence and impunity it is important that the rule of law prevails,” the priest said, adding, “It’s a long fight ahead, but this is a step forward in the search for truth and justice.” 
 
Vincentian Father Danilo Pilario, who works in an urban poor community in Manila, said victims’ families would now have the chance to get to the truth.
 
“Now is the time for them to know how the police ‘constructed’ the circumstances surrounding the deaths (of their loved ones). This is one step toward their desire to seek justice,” he said.
 
In a statement, the Centre for International Law said the documents were the “first step towards the long road to justice for the petitioners and to thousands of victims of the ‘war on drugs’ and their families.”
 
It said, “This is an emphatic statement by the highest court of the land that it will not allow the rule of law to be trampled upon in the war on drugs. It’s a very important decision.” 
 
Jose Manuel Diokno, head of the Free Legal Assistance Group, said, “It’s a big step forward for transparency and accountability.” 
 
He said the police documents could help lawyers look into the police actions conducted immediately after Duterte came to power in mid-2016.
 
However, Diokno said the court decision was only “one victory on the many fronts of struggle to halt the killings.”
 
He stressed, “The most important thing is for the killings to stop.” Marissa Lazaro, whose son, Christopher, was killed by police on 5 August 2017, recounted how she spent money and time before getting police records almost a year after his death.
 
She said police justified the delay, saying that she would only use them against law enforcers.
 
“Every day we are deprived of these documents only heightens our grief and anger,” she said.

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