‘REGULAR’? | Katipunan sweep to keep people safe, say QC cops but rights lawyers call searches illegal

September 15, 2017 - 11:22 AM
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The PNP's "Kalasag" (Shield) logo from PNP website.

MANILA, Philippines — (UPDATE – 12:22 p.m.) Concerned citizens took to social media late Wednesday night to sound the alarm about police searching the bags of customers in establishments along Katipunan Avenue in Quezon City.

A number immediately connected the sweep, rare in the area, to the halftime performance of Ateneo de Manila University’s cheering squad — the Blue Babble Battalion — during the UAAP men’s basketball game earlier that day, in which they protested the P1,000 budget the House of Representatives voted to give the Commission on Human Rights and the extrajudicial killings that have happened under the Duterte administration.

But Superintendent Alex Alberto, commander of Quezon City Police Station 9 in Anonas, assured the public that they were only working to protect the customers of the three establishments they visited that night: Tortuga, Lan Kwai, and Jeepney Bistro.

‘Yung ginagawa po natin ngayon na ano (operation), regular ‘yan, ‘yung tinatawag natin na Oplan Bakal. Nagche-check po tayo ng mga bar para maiwasan natin ‘yung mga nagdadala ng mga bladed weapons, ‘yung mga blunt object, tapos ‘yung mga pwedeng makasakit o makapatay na bagay (What we’re doing now is a regular thing, what we call Oplan Bakal. We check bars to prevent incidents where they bring weapons, blunt objects, and other items that can hurt or even kill),” he told InterAksyon in a phone interview Thursday.

He acknowledged that they also searched for illegal drugs but came up empty-handed.

However, a human rights lawyers’ group said the police committed “patently illegal” and “unconstitutional” acts and asked:  “Are we a full-fledged police state already? Is this part of dress rehearsals or trial balloons for martial law?”

National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers president Edre Olalia and secretary general Ephraim Cortez, in what they called a “quick legal advisory” issued Friday, stressed: “There are only very specific instances where searches without warrants can be done and they must always be based on probable cause and not mere suspicion, speculation or fishing expedition.”

“Some of these very limited instances of valid searches even without warrants include:

  1. search incidental to a lawful arrest (yes, the arrest must be lawful to start with)
    2. search of a moving vehicle which is the object to be seized
    3. search of illegal objects in plain view (without the searching officer doing anything to discover it)
    4. searches voluntarily allowed, permitted or consented by the person to be searched (but not because of fear, subtle coercion or passive acquiesence)
    5. searches in customs for contraband
    6. administrative searches upon entry like in places open to the public like malls”

They added that no one — not the president, Justice secretary, heads of security forces, or any other official — but “only an active judge can issue a search warrant.”

“And before a judge can issue a search warrant through a very thorough examination, there are very strict requirements of probable cause, specific description of the place to be searched and the things to be seized upon sworn application by the searching party, among others,” they stressed.

“Otherwise, all things seized illegally cannot be admitted as evidence as they are considered ‘fruits of a poisonous tree’ and the courts will treat them as legally non-existent,” they added.

The lawyers also warned that “if the police persists with these roving bands, we will bring them again to court that they will be too tied up defending their actions.”

Earlier, the NUPL filed a petition before the Quezon City regional trial court to stop police from conducting house-to-house drug tests. However, authorities stopped the controversial practice before the court could rule on the petition.

Asked how the police conducted their search, Alberto said: “Para din po tayong nagko-conduct ng mga checkpoint na kapag may mga motor na dumadaan, kinakapkapan din natin ‘yung mga kalalakihan, siyempre lalo na kung naka-jacket o minsan naman, inuutusan na rin natin sila na pakiangat na lang ‘yung damit para hindi na kapkapan. Kasi ‘pag nakita naman natin in plain view na wala namang nakasukbit na kung ano man, ay hindi na po kailangang kapkapan (It’s the same as when we conduct checkpoints when motorcycles pass, we frisk the men, especially if they’re wearing jackets, but sometimes we also tell them to lift their clothes instead so we don’t have to frisk them anymore. If we see in plain view that they don’t have anything on their person, we no longer need to frisk them).”

At saka meron pong insidente na ‘yung sinasabi nila na kinakapkapan na mga bag, ‘yun po ay nire-require na lang sila na kayo na po ang magbukas kasi sa inyo naman po ‘yan (And there are also incidents where they said their bags are searched, they were just required to open the bags themselves because these are theirs, after all),” Alberto explained.

Maliwanag naman ‘yan dahil kapag ipinagpaalam nga po natin sa mga manager ng mga establisamyento, ‘yan po ay binubuksan talaga ang ilaw at saka ina-announce nila mismo na kaunting abala lang po ito, ito po ay daily routine na ginagawa ng mga pulis natin, nagko-conduct sila ng Oplan Bakal para din po sa kaligtasan ng mga customer (That is clear because when we seek permission from the managers of the establishment, they really turn on the lights and announce that they are sorry to bother, but this is our police’s daily routine, where they conduct Oplan Bakal for the customers’ safety),” he added.

Alberto said Loyola Heights barangay chairman Caezar Marquez had previously complained to him that the three establishments searched that night were not allowed to sell alcoholic drinks, and requested him to check on them, “kahit (even) three times a week.”

Ang permit lang nila is magtinda lang ng pagkain (They only have a permit to sell food),” Alberto quoted Marquez as saying.

Sabi ko nga, kahit nga gabi-gabi kasi hindi naman natin alam kung kelan mangyayari ‘yung krimen eh. Para maiwasan po natin (I even said that we can do inspections every night because we never know when a crime will occur. So we can avoid it),” Alberto added.

Asked if regulars at the establishments in the area could expect frequent inspections from now on, he said yes.

He noted that Marquez usually called for meetings with residents, including the schools in the vicinity such as Ateneo, to discuss peace and order. A representative of Ateneo supposedly sought Alberto’s help to “check” on students who would go to these bars after class instead of going straight home.

After Wednesday’s Oplan Bakal, said Alberto, the police wrote a report and informed Marquez that they had verified his complaint, that these establishments indeed sold alcoholic beverages.

Alberto hoped the public wouldn’t take the police’s actions negatively.

Kung du’n nga sa isang pamilya, imagine-in na lang natin ‘pag meron pong lasing o lulong sa droga, sa isang pamilya nagkakaroon ng hostage-taking eh. ‘Di po ba? Eh ‘yun pa kayang ganu’n na mga bar na hindi naman sila magkakakilala, baka mamaya nasobrahan ng lasing, magkatitigan, magkapikunan. And then hindi natin alam, hindi naman nila na-check din kung meron palang dalang mga blunt object, or any deadly weapon na nakapasok doon. Which is bawal. Kaya tsine-check po natin ‘yun po para sa kaligtasan ng publiko (If it can happen in families — just imagine, someone who’s drunk or using drugs can take his or her family hostage. Right? In bars, people don’t even know each other. Someone might get too drunk and with just one look, get into a fight. We don’t know what might happen. They don’t even check whether people brought blunt objects or deadly weapons with them),” he said.