Transparent as mud

THE solicitor general has decided to withhold police reports on the deaths of some 4,000 drug suspects from the Supreme Court on the grounds that making them available to the justices could compromise national security.

The decision flies in the face of the Duterte administration’s vow to bring transparency to government and strongly suggests, rightly or wrongly, that the powers that be have something to hide.

Earlier, the Court had asked the Office of the Solicitor General and the Philippine National Police to produce documents related to the administration’s anti-drug campaign.

Last week, the Solicitor General Jose Calida told the Court it could not comply with its directive, because the documents “involve information and other sensitive matters that in the long run will have an undeniable effect on national security.”

Calida told the Court that producing so many documents would be “laborious” and that it could “spell the success or failure of follow-up operations of [the] police and other law enforcement bodies.”

He also took it upon himself to remind the Supreme Court justices that the right to information was not absolute, and that the Court, by asking for the documents, had “ventured into unwarranted factual inquiries” when it was not “a trier of facts.”

On the face of it, the arguments Calida presents seem patently absurd.

First of all, most if not all of the cases involve drug suspects and street crimes that have no impact whatsoever on national security. To argue that the activities of thousands of small-time drug pushers or drug addicts would have an impact on the national security strains credulity, to say the least.

Second, the voluminous nature of the work at hand is no excuse for failure to comply with a court order. We assume that the documents being sought have already been prepared, and must merely be retrieved to comply with the Court’s order. If they are stored digitally, that would be all the more reason to comply with the order swiftly.

Finally, Calida’s refusal to comply with the order is an admission that the administration has something to hide, which could damage the credibility of its anti-drug campaign. Perhaps the solicitor general needs to be reminded that the security of the administration is not the same as national security.

Administration ally Senator Richard Gordon is correct when he says that national security cannot be invoked because precedents have upheld the Supreme Court’s power to review executive decisions.

“If you refuse to give information, it means you are hiding something and that’s not good,” Gordon said.

One of the first executive orders that President Rodrigo Duterte signed was a document to institutionalize freedom of information among executive offices. The order was aimed at bringing greater transparency to the workings of government and to regain the people’s trust in their institutions. Mr. Calida’s act of withholding documents from the Supreme Court flies in the face of that executive order and makes the police campaign against illegal drugs as transparent as mud.

Topics: Transparent as mud

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