Human rights lawyer and former Bayan Muna representative Neri Colmenares has criticized the National Capital Region Police Office over the blanket filing of criminal charges against 120 patrons of a Makati bar raided before dawn on Saturday, August 11.
Performing artists said they would launch a campaign so that musicians and other artists know how to defend their rights when caught up in a dragnet.
“Actually this not the first time it happened,” said the musician Skarlet Brown. “But this is the first time that the police rounded up everyone in one place,” she told ABS-CBN News.
NCRPO director, Chief Supt. Guillermo Eleazar said police filed the charges against people rounded up, including 57 foreigners, for “visiting a drug den,” under a provision of RA 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act.
The charges were filed in adherence to regular procedures, the police officer said, adding that they would leave it to prosecutors to pursue or drop the cases.
Raiders seized several plastic sachets of cocaine and shabu, ecstasy capsules, hashish and drug paraphernalia from Time in Manila, in the popular Makati Poblacion bar area.
Eleazar said the raid followed a week’s surveillance after the arrest of a drug suspect. A police operative had managed to buy capsules of ecstasy at P2,500 each in the bar. The NCRPO chief said patrons would "coordinate" with the waiters and other staff for their orders and then go to the manager to get the supplies.
He admitted they did not catch anyone using drugs. The raiders brought news teams to document their operation.
More than 30 of the bar’s employees, including the manager and owner, were charged with various cases, including drug possession, drug pushing and maintenance of a drug den.
The arrested patrons were herded into seven jeepneys and brought for processing to the Makati police station, before their releas hours after. Eleazar said the case filed against them is bailable.
Colmenares, however, said police may have violated legal processes.
“Wrong si Eleazar. Under the rules, police file complaints with prosecutors based on their investigation,” Colmenares told ABS-CBNnews. “They should investigate, di trabahong tamad.” (They can’t be lazy.)
Article II of RA 9165 states that the charge covers persons who knowingly visit a drug den. The crime is punishable with imprisonment of 12 years one day to 20 years and fine of P100,000 to P500,000.
“That means they need to show each person charged was aware of the nature of the place,” Colmenares said.
He also twitted the police on the matter of following procedures, citing their reluctance to investigate thousands of killings during police anti-narcotics operations.
“Under the law, when someone died during police operations, even legitimate operations, there should be an inquest for all officers involved,” he pointed out. “Why are they not following those operations procedures?”
Panic at the bar
Police said they had a warrant for the raid.
A netizen whose friend was among those rounded up shared “live” but private tweets, on the raid. One post was a photo of men in civilian clothes with guns. She said her friend did not want exposure and cropped the messages to ensure the sender’s privacy.
Her friend, who managed to contact a lawyer, refused to give her name and particulars and invoked her right to counsel. She was told by cops to leave and apparently was not among those charged.
Many, however, provided names and signatures in the belief that it would hasten their release.
“They were told that no mugshots will be taken but when those who signed were doing so, pictures were being taken of them via camera phone,” the netizen said.
“'Mag-cooperate lang kayo at walang masasaktan’ daw ang paulit-ulit na sinasabi,” she added.
One of those rounded up, in an interview with TV Patrol, said police “were very polite.”
“They asked us to cover our head,” the bar patron said.
Anxious, angry artists
“What happened in Time bar sent a very loud alarm signal to all musicians and music workers like sound techs, DJs and or sound system providers hired to work on a casual per weekly basis,” Skarlet told ABS-CBN News.
“I am one of those people, a working musician, that is why the anxiety. A situation like that happening in a place where I sing is obviously a big possibilty,” she said.
“And I also fear for the rock joints with multi band line up we call PRODs or undergound gigs where big groups of young people hang out can be prime targets...Josko wag naman po sana.”
Jaime Hernandez, artist and manager of the band Tropical Depression, said he fears for the band and other colleagues.
“Gabi gabi kami na nasa labas ng kalsada at tumutugtog sa iba't ibang mga bars. Hindi po ito isto istorya lang; maraming mga artists at bandang umaasa sa pagtugtog,” he said. (We need to go out every night to perform. It’s our livelihood.
He urged cops to follow the law and due investigation and respect due process. He also said colleagues affiliated with the arts and media alliance Let’s Organize for Democracy and Integrity (LODI) would be holding workshops and forums to help musicians defend their rights and civil liberties.
While the prosecutors could end up dropping the charges, the blanket filing of cases would burden those caught up with legal fees and emotional turmoil.
“Wala ng ngang mga benebisyo at regular na sahod itong mga artists ganito pa kalala ang sitwasyon. Sana matigil na ang mga ito at napakarami na ang nadadamay sa mga pag-atakeng nagaganap.” (These artists don’t have relular incomes and now they face this situation. I hope it stops because so many are dragged into these attacks.)
Folk-rock musician and songwriter Danny Fabella complained that colleagues were being typecast as drug users.
“It’s not hard to imagine that police could exploit this and engage in arbitrary arrests of musicians, especially if they are not looking for criminals but victims or they just want to up their quota of arrests,” he told ABS-CBN News.
“This has affected livelihood, especially since the crackdown on tambays (loiterers),” Fabella added. “Instead of going to several gigs throughout the night, many now opt to go home early to avoid harassment, leading to loss of income.”