Drug-related killings in police operations and supposed vigilante attacks in the country have not reached alarming levels, said an official of a group of lawmakers in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).
“Drug menace is a problem for us all, but we are not here to judge any other member countries on how they deal with the drug menace. What we are trying to do is to learn from one another. What methods are working here in the Philippines that could be applied to Thailand, and vice versa,” said Isra Sunthornvut, secretary general of the Asean Inter-Parliamentary Assembly (AIPA) in a news conference.
“There was no room for criticism…there was no reason for criticism because the Filipino way is the Filipino way. The Thai way is the Thai way,” Isra added.
Isra spoke at the end of the second day of the 13th meeting of AIPA’s Fact Finding Committee to Combat the Drug Menace, hosted by Manila.
Rep. Robert Barbers of Surigao del Norte echoed Isra’s sentiments.
“All Asean member-countries also have problems concerning human rights. Besides, human rights violations are not a result of an order coming from the President. Having said that, I don’t think there is any reason why we should connect that in our war against drugs,” Barbers, chairman of the AIPA meeting, said in the same news conference.
Barbers said Asean lawmakers recognized the “success” of the country’s anti-drug war which involved President Rodrigo Duterte naming drug-linked personalities; dismantling drug laboratories, and the Philippine National Police’s Oplan Tokhang wherein police knocked on the residences of drug suspects to convince them to turn themselves in.
Oplan Tokhang was suspended in January after it was revealed that South Korean Jee Ick Joo was killed inside the Philippine National Police headquarters in Camp Crame in Quezon City. Qiu Jee was kidnapped in October 2016 by police officers using a fake arrest warrant accusing him of being involved in the illegal drug trade.
In January, the South Korean Foreign Ministry revealed that Jee was murdered and his cremated remains were flushed in a toilet.
Oplan Tokhang was resumed in March.
“As a result of Oplan Tokhang, at least 1.3 million drug personalities surrendered to the authorities. Imagine if we did not have Tokhang, we would have 1.3 million potential criminals in the streets,” Barbers said.
“Our effective strategies did curb the problem of addiction and proliferation of illegal drugs, and so other Asean members intimated to myself that our drug war, in one way or the other, could be a template that they might copy,” Barbers added.
Meditation for drug users
Isra would not say if Thailand would adopt Oplan Tokhang but clarified that the war against the proliferation of illegal drugs should be waged with compassion and that drug users should use meditation to fight the urge to be a drug user.
“We use meditation…this Buddhist concept wherein we train the mind [of a drug user]to stop being so weak, for lack of a better word. Alongside this policy is the idea of our King Rama 9th, wherein he said you can’t fight drugs with anger. You have to be compassionate because it is your countrymen,” Isra told reporters.
While he highlighted compassion, Isra did not express reservation on the proposal of the Duterte administration to restore the death penalty on drug-related offenses.
“We stand to support all our member-countries in their programs. On a personal level, the drug menace is so huge, and it becomes more elaborate everyday. Whatever methods people can do to help try to fight it, I’m all for it,” Isra said.
The Philippines and Cambodia are the only members of the Asean that do not have a death penalty law.