“The relaunch of the police and Duterte administration’s Oplan Tokhang, after being suspended twice in 2017, is a tacit admission that there is something fundamentally wrong with these policies.”
By RUTH LUMIBAO
MANILA — After being suspended twice in 2017, Oplan Tokhang of the Duterte administration has been relaunched on January 29.
The previous implementations of tokhang brought an aftermath of an estimated more than 13,000 dead, questionable operations conducted by the police, and distrust of uniformed personnel.
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The Duterte administration, to redeem its anti-drug campaign, issued new guidelines for its operations. The guidelines included a time limit that tokhang will be implemented from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday; the targets will only be those included in an “official list”; and each “Tokhang Team” is supposed to be composed of a representative from the barangay council, a human rights group or religious sector, and led by a deputy chief of police.
Rights groups advocates, however, said the ‘makeover’ of Duterte’s drug war does not detract from the fact that it is wielded by the administration against the poor and defenseless.
A tacit admission of failure
Early in Duterte’s term, he promised to put an end to the drug problem within six months. Later, he declared an extension — a pattern conspicuously similar to his promise to end the Marawi crisis and ‘terrorism’ in Mindanao. Repeatedly, he also vowed to resign from the presidency if the drug problem prevails. Several promises and ultimatums later, the Duterte administration has chosen to relaunch the drug war without remorse and accountability for the failure of its implementation for the first year of his term.
“The relaunch of the police and Duterte administration’s Oplan Tokhang, after being suspended twice in 2017, is a tacit admission that there is something fundamentally wrong with these policies regarding the drug war, and yet here is Duterte and his Philippine National Police (PNP) again, trying to shove what the Filipino people have already spewed out. It is a superficial makeover of a policy that has earned public condemnation,” said Karapatan Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights (Karapatan) Secretary General Cristina Palabay said.
Progressive lawmakers also found no reassurance from the tokhang guidelines that human rights will be given primary concern.
“The Chief of the PNP himself said that the relaunched Oplan Tokhang will not be bloodless. They keep on pushing to keep an already flawed system in solving the drug problem, which resulted in thousands of Filipinos dead,” ACT Teachers Partylist Representative Antonio Tinio said. “These people are victims of poverty, victims of drugs and victims of impunity. We cannot and will not turn a blind eye on them.”
Anakpawis Partylist solon, Representative Ariel Casilao, reiterated that the Duterte administration has rejected to resolve the drug problem in its root causes.
“In addition to his abandonment of his key promises to the poor sectors, such as land reform and rural development, ending contractualization of labor, and ‘no relocation, no demolition,’ his flawed anti-drug war sealed his unpopularity, and at present, the gov’t never seem to accept that,” Casilao said.
In its announcement to relaunch the anti-drug campaign, the Duterte administration planned to buy “body cams” for law enforcement officers, in order to keep a close eye on the operations.
“These slight changes do not assure the public that the PNP can be trusted in solving the drug problem in our country,” ACT Teachers Partylist France Castro said.
While the plan drew flak for being a band-aid solution to the main problem of tokhang, which is giving the power to the police to disregard due process and an equivalent ‘shoot-to-kill’ order, the Duterte administration responded with a more absurd solution: to spend PhP 511,000 each for 48 sniff dogs to be brought by the police during their operations.
A glaring deficiency in the new tokhang guidelines is the promise to seek accountability for the past victims of its implementation. The only advice that PNP Chief Director General Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa could give the kin of victims of tokhang is to “move on because there is no forever”.
With the relaunch of their campaign, the Duterte administration spares no room for remorse or accountability. The Department of Justice (DOJ) exonerated the 13 cops involved in the death of senior high school student Kian Delos Santos and refrains from investigating the PhP 6.4-billion worth of shabu shipment, where the president’s son, Paolo Duterte, was allegedly involved.
“The PNP has already tried the rhetoric that the drug campaign will be a ‘gentler’ campaign, but it completely misses the point. It doesn’t matter if operations are only between 8am to 5pm, if you have a corrupt police force who disrespects human rights and considers themselves above the law, violations are inevitable regardless of the time. Furthermore, no self-respecting human rights advocate will deliberately involve themselves in such operations,” Palabay explained.