Lawyers welcome SC ruling to protect ‘Tokhang’ victims

Lawyers of Center for International Law (Centerlaw) file a petition for the writ of amparo on January 26, seeking protection for the lone survivor and the family of victims of an alleged brutal Oplan Tokhang operation in Quezon City last year.

The Supreme Court’s swift move to grant protection to the lone survivor and the family of slain victims of a brutal Oplan Tokhang operation is timely and necessary, a law firm said Tuesday.

The decision comes amid allegations of rogue cops involved in illegal drug operations, and worse, kidnapping for ransom cases. This has promoted the Duterte administration to suspend its anti-drug campaign.

In a statement, the Center for International Law (Centerlaw) thanked the high court for “acting with dispatch” on its petition for the issuance of the writ of amparo for the victims and their families.

The petition for the writ of amparo, a remedy available to victims of extralegal killings, was the very first legal action filed by a civilian against the anti-illegal drug campaign of President Rodrigo Duterte, which has seen deaths rise to over 6,000 in his first six months in office.

The law firm filed the petition on Jan. 26 on behalf of the victims who claimed they still suffer from continued harassment and intimidation from the Quezon City Police Department, months after their relatives were “shot dead, execution style” by its men.

Yesterday, the SC has issued a temporary protection order that prevents police officers from entering within a radius of one kilometer from the homes and workplace of the petitioners.

It also ordered the Court of Appeals to conduct a hearing on the suspension of Oplan Tokhang operations in all areas under the jurisdiction of the QCPD, as sought in the petition.

“This shows that citizens may still look to the Supreme Court for a remedy for violations of constitutional rights. This move by the High Court cannot be overemphasized, coming as it does in dark times when officials tasked to execute and uphold the law are the very ones who appear to violate it,” it said.

The petition is based largely on the account of 28-year-old Efren Morillo, the lone survivor and now a vital witness to a murderous Oplan Tokhang operation carried out by the QCPD on Aug. 21, 2016, at Brgy. Payatas, Quezon City. (See /articles/drug-war-survivor-cl…)

Morillo, who was shot in the chest, had to play dead to fight for his life. The four others were handcuffed using wires, made to sit by side then shot by armed men in civilian clothes who turned out to be QCPD police.

According to the petition, the police also allegedly altered the location of the incident in the victims’ death certificates to bear “Brgy. Bagong Silangan” instead of “Brgy. Payatas,” where it actually happened, to show that the area is within their jurisdiction.

The protection, however, only covers Payatas and not the whole country.

Centerlaw also noted that the suspension of Oplan Tokhang operations by the PNP came after the petition was filed with the high court.

“This underscores the fact that where there is a violation of legal and constitutional rights, citizens should not hesitate to seek the succor of courts,” it said. – Maria Feona Imperial