December 2, 2023

The city council has sought to hold an executive meeting with members of the Cordillera Regional Law Enforcement Coordinating Council (RLECC) to shed light on the latter’s decision to conduct tokhang to left-leaning personalities in the government, media, and other entities.
During its regular session last Monday, the city council on motion of Councilor Arthur Allad-iw was poised to pass a resolution asking the RLECC to withdraw its Resolution 4, s. 2021, for adopting the tokhang, a strategy used by the police in the illegal drugs war, but criticized due to alleged extrajudicial killings of drug suspects.
However, the council members decided to defer the approval of the measure for a week and opted to first invite the Police Regional Office-Cordillera and the RLECC members who signed the resolution to a dialogue, and for the RLECC to suspend the implementation of its resolution pending discussion of the issues.
They also wanted to discuss the other RLECC resolution asking the council to pass a measure requiring cause-oriented groups to secure a clearance from the local government unit with the concurrence of the Philippine National Police or Armed Forces of the Philippines, and to be apprised as well of the current insurgency situation in the city and of the police’s list of left leaning personalities.
Resource persons invited by the council during its March 8 session were unanimous in saying the tokhang resolution is unconstitutional and undemocratic as it tramples on basic human rights enshrined by the 1987 Constitution, particularly the right to peaceably assemble to petition the government for redress of grievances and right to equal protection of law, due process, and presumption of innocence, among others.
Col. Maly Cula, representing PRO-Cor, assured the council that the tokhang strategy being adopted in the RLECC resolution would be bloodless and not as perceived as what happened in the illegal drug war.
He said it aims to encourage and plead those with left leanings or supporting communism to reconsider their stand and go back to the folds of the law.
The councilors, however, questioned such move and asked to be clarified on the definition of a left-leaning personality and why are they being made subject of tokhang.
Atty. Rio Belmes of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines Baguio-Benguet said an operation against left-leaning personalities parallel to that of Oplan Tokhang “flirts with the same evils sought to be prevented by the Bill of Rights” because of its vagueness and lack of accompanying operational guidelines, which gives scant information and affords state agents wide latitude, if not discretion, that will render human rights vulnerable.
Ideology, for one, bare and by itself, is not a crime unless executed by some overt acts that violate existing laws, Belmes said.
Lawyer and former councilor Jose Molintas said there is nothing in the Constitution that makes being a leftist or an activist a crime.
He said people should not be branded as leftists or activists and be discriminated against because there is no law making it as a crime.
“This for me is very dangerous because we are now making it appear that being an activist or a protester is a crime. This is undemocratic and unconstitutional. Even the Oplan Tokhang has been declared by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional. For them to be fishing, which eventually could lead in the death of a person, this is definitely extrajudicial killing, which is the most dangerous path and the negative effect of Oplan Tokhang. If you do that to protesters, activists, or dissenters, killing them under the guise of ‘nanlaban’ is already human rights violation,” Molintas said.
He added the country espouses democracy, which encourages left to right political leanings and parties.
On the request for concurrence of the PNP or AFP, constitutional lawyer and professor Lauro Gacayan said the city council has no power to grant such request, citing Section 5 of Batas Pambansa 880 or the Public Assembly Act, which says only the mayor may grant or deny a permit for a rally or assembly.
He said the city council also cannot add another government official that will do so as it is tantamount to amending a law passed by Congress and violates the right to equal protection of the law.
“Why? Because if you will allow the AFP and PNP to give concurrence before a rally permit will be issued, that will be applicable in Baguio City. Left-leaning members who will have rally in other places do not need such concurrence, but for those who will rally here in Baguio, they will need it. That is a clear violation of the equal protection clause of Section 1 Article 3 of the Constitution. There is no reason why we are restricted here while those rallying in other places are not,” Gacayan said.
He said PNP and AFP limiting the requirement for their concurrence to applicants involving the media and left-leaning organizations is also not allowed, as jurisprudence says the approval or disapproval of a rally permit must not be dependent on who is the applicant for the permit, whether individual or a group.
He said it can be approved or denied based on only one yardstick – the presence of clear and present danger of substantive evil, not because of the personality of the person applying for a permit.
The Supreme Court he said also has decided the only participation of the AFP and PNP is to see to it that there will be no disturbance during the rally, and they have no right to decide whether the rally will continue or not; and even when the police are at the rally site, they cannot stop the rallyists from talking even if they believe that what they are saying is libelous, seditious, or against the government as long as there is no disturbance or violence.
“They have to observe maximum tolerance. What they can do if they think what is being uttered by the speaker is libelous or seditious is to file a case later on, but not stop them. What is happening here is PNP can completely prevent you from even starting a rally, to utter a single word, that’s prior restraint,” Gacayan said.
Also present and sharing the same sentiments to the RLECC resolutions during the session were representatives from the University of the Cordilleras College of Law, National Bureau of Investigation, the Baguio Correspondents and Broadcasters Club, and church group leaders. – Hannna C. Lacsamana