WHAT evidence does the police have against Nel Spencer Tiu, boyfriend of Ashley Abad, the 19-year-old nursing student who died of drug abuse after a pre-Sinulog party in Cebu City last Jan. 19?
Obviously none. Cebu City police chief Royina Garma earlier said Tiu was not a suspect. They just wanted him and six of his friends to shed light on the incident that led to Abad’s death. Police Central Visayas chief Debold Sinas used the same tack: a request for Tiu and his friends to cooperate with the police, with the not-so-subtle warning the boyfriend would be considered a suspect and even charged if he didn’t cooperate.
But can President Duterte order that Tiu be arrested and prosecuted on mere suspicion? He can order pretty much anything; he is the president. But here, he acted on his mandate to enforce the law and the request to help the Abad family “get justice.”
Tapping the tragedy
Besides, Duterte is citing the Cebu tragedy to attack critics who flog the human rights “violations” in his war on drugs. In a speech before newly appointed officials and diplomats last Thursday (Feb. 7) and at the peace and order summit in Albay last Friday (Feb. 8), he spewed out curses on human rights advocates with the Abad death as his “news peg.”
As to the order to arrest, publicly announced and personally relayed to General Sinas, Palace communicators can explain that it instructed the police to “get the evidence that will enable” them to arrest and charge the culprit.
It’s the subtext of the order that might be scary for Tiu and his friends. Presidential interest in the Abad case has already sent police, PDEA, immigration and DOJ separately scrambling to get noticed: matrix on Ecstasy traffic in Cebu, hold-departure order against Tiu, and the like. Nothing about “planting” or “uprooting” evidence, to be sure, but that sort of stuff is not officially mentioned.
There’s not much of anything the police can use against Tiu and his group. A spokesman of the Abad family was quoted as saying Tiu must have induced Ashley to take a full, instead of half, tablet of the party drug “Ecstasy” and alcoholic drink as well. But was there coercion? That’s what they want to establish with the help of witnesses.
The boyfriend and his pals will be asked to testify not just about the drug sellers but also about their own use of drugs and their contribution to Ashley’s death. Matters that could entangle them in criminal and civil charges. That would be supplying their own kindling to the fire being built to burn the culprits.
In that sense, this is different from the usual catch-or-kill-the-pusher situation.
Police are asked to look into the melodrama on the drug users’ side, in which the possible villain or villains are not the drug suppliers but the boyfriend and friends of the victim.
Capturing the drug suppliers is tough enough. Sending the victim’s acquaintances to jail for the “bad influence” on the victim, which led to Ashley’s death but might not constitute a crime, is harder.
Police need evidence other than refusal of Tiu and his pals to testify against themselves.