Wed, 27 May 2020

Screen shot fromRappler‘slivestream of FLAG's press conference.

THE SUPREME Court (SC) ordered the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) to release police records documenting President Rodrigo Dutertes war on drugs on April 2. In an unexpected turn of events, the Court also directed the OSG to furnish copies to the Center for International Law (CenterLaw) and the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), the groups that filed petitions protesting the conduct of the governments anti-illegal drug campaign in 2017.

The SC ruling denied Solicitor General Jose Calidas motion for reconsideration to keep the documents only between the SC and the government. The Court first ordered the OSG to submit the drug war records in December 2017, but Calida refused and filed an appeal in the same month, arguing that doing so would have an undeniable effect on national security. The SC disagreed and denied his appeal on April 2018, calling his claim ridiculous.

The Supreme Court order will boost the efforts to establish the truth about Dutertes bloody anti-drug campaign with evidence held in official government records. Despite its obvious significance and relevance to the pursuit of justice for families of thousands of victims, the decision did not gain much media attention.

The development was reported by the media, but only in brief, without discussion of the issues and its implications. Some news accounts reported the press conference of FLAG. But there were no follow up reports, no detailed analysis or discussion. In fact, the story dropped quickly from the news agenda.

CMFR monitored reports from the broadsheets Manila Bulletin, the Philippine Daily Inquirer and The Philippine Star; the primetime newscasts 24 Oras (GMA-7), Aksyon (TV5), News Night (CNN Philippines) and TV Patrol (ABS-CBN 2); as well as selected news websites from April 2 to 8, 2019.

Unsustained; No Follow Through

Online news and some TV newscasts promptly carried reports on the resolution on April 2 and newspapers on their April 3 editions. These included details about the petitions filed by CenterLaw and FLAG and recalled proceedings in the High Court, including Calidas attempts to prevent the release of the drug war records. Reports also noted the statements of the petitioners and some concerned groups praising the SC decision. Malacaang, the OSG and the Philippine National Police (PNP) said they would comply with the Courts order.

Media reported on FLAGs press conference on April 4, during which the group shared their observations on the initial batch of records given to them by the OSG last year. Among the points raised by the group was the seeming lack of effort in investigating the cases and the nearly identical language used in the records. Atty. Theodore Te, a member of FLAG, said the documents pertaining to the 29 cases given to them by the OSG showed that the spot, incident, progress, investigation and final investigation reports used nearly the same descriptions of the suspects who allegedly resisted arrest. Procedural lapses on the part of the police were also identified, such as the failure to turn over seized drugs to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency.

News picked up subsequent developments in brief and the subject itself was dropped by the media as the weekend approached, apparently assuming the publics lack of interest to merit any other follow-up.

Some media organizations ignored the issue altogether during the monitored period. Primetime newscast 24 Oras had no reports on it, for example.

And yet the media could have looked into the points raised by FLAG, which were clear leads journalists could have pursued in later reports. Follow-up reports, for instance, could have looked into the police protocol for the storage of seized items during operations. Were the police really in violation of their own procedures? In the case of seized or surrendered illegal drugs, is the PNP Crime Laboratory mandated to keep them or is it some other police unit?

Whats next?

The OSG said it will comply with the Supreme Courts order upon receipt of the resolution. The media must be ready to pick up key information when more documents are made available to the petitioners.

The killings in the governments war on drugs have long been papered over by the Duterte government, or dismissed with official denials and claims. Now that crucial data will soon be available for scrutiny, the media should show the same fervor in reporting the drug war killings when these began in 2016.

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