“Unlike the other killings of some minors, this is not collateral damage because from the evidence, from the video, from the CCTV, it appears that this is an illegal killing,” Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II said during the Senate committee on finance hearing on his department’s proposed budget for 2018. Geremy Pintolo/File
MANILA, Philippines - High school student Kian delos Santos was no collateral damage in the war on drugs but a victim of an “illegal killing,” Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II said yesterday.
“Unlike the other killings of some minors, this is not collateral damage because from the evidence, from the video, from the CCTV, it appears that this is an illegal killing,” Aguirre said during the Senate committee on finance hearing on his department’s proposed budget for 2018.
At the same time, Aguirre also said the recently reported house-to-house drug testing being conducted by police in Quezon City has no legal basis.
“I don’t believe that is accorded in any law or administrative order,” Aguirre said.
He issued the legal opinion upon questioning by Sen. Franklin Drilon.
But Aguirre believes that while the random drug testing by police in the city has no legal basis, it could be allowed if voluntary.
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“I believe there is consent and no complaints of coercion has reached my office,” the official explained.
Aguirre also denied accusing the Liberal Party of trying to bribe the parents of Kian delos Santos with P2 million to join political rallies against the Duterte administration.
Aguirre said he was not the source of the allegation, but was only asked about it in a radio interview last Wednesday.
“I was asked during the interview if there was such an offer to the family of Kian. I said I also heard something about it but I did not mention any amount,” he explained.
Aguirre also stressed that he did not mention the Liberal Party during the interview.
In a statement last Wednesday, the LP denied the bribery attempt and called for the resignation of Aguirre for “diminishing the stature of his office” due to his “repeated issuances of erroneous claims.”
The LP said it was “not the first time” that Aguirre made accusations against the party, citing the previous instance when the secretary accused Sens. Francis Pangilinan, Leila de Lima and Antonio Trillanes IV of being behind a supposed plot to implicate him in the bribery scandal at the Bureau of Immigration.
Aguirre later apologized to the senators.
When sought for comment, Aguirre said his stay at the Department of Justice (DOJ) would depend on President Duterte.
“I serve at the pleasure of the appointing authority, the President, and not of any political party,” he said.
Aguirre admitted that the killing of Delos Santos was illegal based on what was seen in closed circuit television footage of the incident.
He said that so far there were 518 minors arrested and Delos Santos was the lone fatality.
“This unfortunate event is an isolated killing because out of 518, this is the only killing that happened when minors were arrested,” Aguirre said.
The Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) has expressed concern over the killings in the intensified operations against illegal drugs of the Philippine National Police (PNP).
In a statement yesterday, the IBP called for transparency from the PNP leadership on the operations following the killing of 17-year-old Delos Santos during an anti-narcotics operation in Caloocan City last Aug. 16.
“In this frenzied fight against prohibited drugs, the nation stands witness to a series of killings, summary executions and cold-blooded murder,” the IBP said.
The lawyers’ group stressed that apart from Kian, 91 others were reported dead as a result of police operations dubbed as “Operation One Time Big Time” in the National Capital Region and in the provinces of Bulacan and Cavite from Aug. 13 to 20.
“We thus urge the national police forces to release information such as pre-operation and spot reports on the aforesaid Operation One Time Big Time, in line with Executive Order No. 02, series of 2016,” the IBP appealed, citing the right to information under Article III, Section 7 of the Constitution.
The 55,000-strong IBP stressed that it supports the objective of the Duterte administration’s war on drugs.
Improve PNP image
Senior Supt. Rhodel Sermonia, the new head of the Police Community Relations Group (PCRG), yesterday vowed to improve the image of the PNP following the controversial killing of Delos Santos.
Sermonia said Delos Santos’ death should remind police to follow standard operational procedures.
“We will learn from that, the more that we are going to educate our personnel,” he said.
He would support more community engagements to explain that the government’s war on drugs is for the benefit of the public.
Community engagements will be done not only in Metro Manila but other parts of the country as well, including Mindanao. They would also utilize social media platforms like Facebook.
Sermonia yesterday took over leadership of the PCRG from Chief Supt. Gilberto Cruz, who has been reassigned as director of Police Regional Office 8.
Sermonia explained Oplan Tokhang is one of the best anti-drug programs the police ever had, where more than 3,400 drug suspects have been killed in police operations and 1.3 million others have surrendered. – With Emmanuel Tupas