PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte’s decision to suspend his murderous war on drugs, following the brutal police murder of a kidnapped South Korean businessman inside the compound of the Philippine National Police central headquarters, and the huge outcry it has generated here and abroad, provides the President an opportunity to review the bloody drug campaign he has embarked upon since July 1, and to discover that there are other equally, if not more, pressing problems demanding attention from his presidency.
But what made DU30 act on the kidnapping and cold-blooded murder of the Korean Jee Ick-joo, after he had casually absolved some policemen of their crime in the earlier killing of Mayor Rolando Espinosa of Albuera, Leyte, inside the sub-provincial jail in Baybay, Leyte, at four o’clock in the morning—(a “rubout,” the National Bureau of Investigation said), defended the extra-judicial killing of close to 7,000 nameless drug suspects, and mobilized social media trolls to attack those who denounced the killings?
Did DU30 suddenly regain the sense of law and justice he had lost since he came to power, or did the unflinching demand for justice on the part of Jee’s widow and the South Korean government spell all the difference? Did he see in the victim’s widow what he had seen several days ago in the widows of the 44 Special Action Force commando victims of the 2015 Mamasapano massacre, which prompted him to talk of the culpability of his predecessor, B. S. Aquino 3rd? Or did he suddenly realize that here, he was dealing not just with a foreign widow but with a foreign government which had seen the assassination of one of its own popular presidents, and routinely removes its president and imprisons them when necessary?
The South Koreans are not to be taken lightly.
Rethinking the drug war
In any case, DU30 has the time now to reexamine objectively the need for, and verify the purported gains made from, Project Double Barrel, under whose Operation Tokhang and Operation HVT (High Value Target) the Philippine National Police became the main organizational vehicle of the state-sponsored extra-judicial killings, to which DU30’s ideological partners at Kilusang Pagbabago (Movement for Change) had assigned the task of “social cleansing.” This began officially on the first day of the DU30 administration when PNP Chief Ronald “Bato” de la Rosa issued PNP Command Memorandum Circular 16-2016, which ordered the “neutralization” (a euphemism for “killing”) of all illegal drug personalities.
Tokhang is a contraction of two words — “toktok” (knock) and “hangyo” (to ask)—which defines the anti-drug mission of the police. They knock on the door and ask questions during their “visitations.” What has happened is that the police knock, enter the house and then shoot. Tokhang has become “tokbang.” HVT means high-value target, but after six months, the war on drugs has focused on small fry, not on any high-value target. The more cynical observer tends to believe they have tried to eliminate the competition, so they would have full control of the narco trade.
A confidential paper prepared by a small group of select police officers, both active and retired, claims that like the overall plan to turn the country into a communist state, the drug war was designed by Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr., who wanted to replicate China’s war on drugs from 1949 to 1950, which reportedly killed 70 million drug users. The only difference, the paper points out, is that while China launched its drug war after the 1949 communist revolution, DU30’s war was being waged before, and as a major instrument in hastening, the intended communist takeover in the Philippines.
DDS in the drug war
According to this paper, the so-called Davao Death Squad got involved in the drug war as early as July 20, 2016, when a group of seven members led by an important Davao City official traveled to Quezon province to link up with other anti-drug elements. They were eventually integrated into the PNP Anti-Illegal Drugs Group (AIDG). But aside from anti-drug activities, they were also involved in fund-raising activities, through contacts with the gambling lords in Regions 3 and 4 and the National Capital Region, and with certain personalities interested in landing plum government positions.
Official statistics from the Dangerous Drugs Board and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency place the number of drug users in the country at 1.8 million. DU30, however, presents an inflated figure of 3 million to 4 million. His declared objective is to exterminate them all. From July 1, 2016 to Jan. 12, 2017, the PNP’s Directorate of Operations reports the following death toll: 6,273 killed in the war on drugs. Of this number, 2,224 were said to have been killed in legitimate police operations (mostly killed while resisting arrest), while 4,404 were killed by so-called “vigilantes.” Not a single vigilante has been killed, arrested or identified by the police, leading some analysts to believe there are no such vigilantes, but probably only rogue policemen in disguise, or even NPA “sparrow units” working with the police.
How much per kill?
In seven months, the war on drugs had a monthly average death toll of 896.14 and an average daily tally of 29.8. A reward system helped to motivate members of the death squad, says the report. For targets listed on the Drug Watch List, a P20,000 reward is given to the policeman or vigilante for every kill. For those not on the Drug List, which include all sorts of lower elements—pickpockets, akyat-bahay, rapists, swindlers, snatchers, gang members,alcoholics and various troublemakers—a reward of P10,000 per kill. For barangay council members on the drug list, P50,000 per kill; for barangay captains on the same list, P100,000 per kill; for mayors on the same list, P1 million; and for chemists, financiers, importers and manufacturers, who appear in the Order of Battle, P5 million per kill. Aside from the late mayor of Albuera, Leyte, there are no known “kills” at the P1 million or P5 million level.
The war on drugs has relied substantially on Evasco’s Kilusang Pagbabago to provide the grassroots intelligence, the report says. This is carried out, according to the report, through MASA MASID (Mamamayang Ayaw sa Anomalya, Mamayang Ayaw sa Illegal na Droga –Citizen Against Anomaly, Citizen Against Illegal Drugs). Drafted by Evasco himself and his undersecretary, Joselito Libres, who are both Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) central committee members, MASA MASID has been made operational with the full cooperation and involvement of the Department of Interior and Local Government. It is said, as of now, to cover 80 percent of the barangays. Aside from the barangay network, one faith-based organization that is hyper-active in politics is reported to be actively feeding the war on drugs with its own inputs.
Gains from the pause from war
DU30’s decision to freeze the war on drugs will suspend Operation Tokhang and Operation HVT, but not necessarily the intelligence gathering of MASA-MASID. The PDEA, rather than PNP, could then take over the anti-drug campaign as a regular program of government, without making the “neutralization” of all drug suspects as its main objective. Working together with friendly governments, DU30 could target the large-scale production, manufacture, distribution and trans-shipment of illegal drugs in the country, while treating drug addiction as a disease, for which the state must set up rehabilitation centers with the help of foreign governments.
DU30 would also do well to revoke Bato de la Rosa’s PNP Circular 16-2016, which a number of groups are planning to bring to court for its rank unconstitutionality and patent abuse of human rights. Revocation of the circular could render court action against it academic; otherwise mere suspension of its implementation will have no decisive effect on the police edict. In the intervening pause, the PNP could also begin to provide accurate documentation of all those who have fallen in the war on drugs, beginning with those killed while supposedly resisting arrest, to those who have surrendered and been detained, mostly without charges, in violation of their constitutional rights.
As an offshoot of the Jee Ick-joo case, DU30 may want to know how many more such kidnappings and murders have taken place, under the protective cover of the war on drugs. Remember that the Korean murder happened last October, but became known only in January. Highly classified police sources believe the big casinos, which employ retired police officers with special security training, may have become the new “fishing ground” of kidnappers for ransom because of the presence of “high rollers” from abroad. It could be more than a theory that some of these high rollers have fallen victim to casino-based syndicates, the sources said.
More time to govern and go after Aquino
Being able to cleanse the police force of rotten eggs is not the only benefit DU30 could derive from his decision to suspend his murderous drug war. With more time to devote to the more essential aspects of governance, he could now follow through on his important promise to the SAF widows to make the responsible parties pay for the massacre of the 44 SAF commandos at Mamasapano, Maguindanao on Jan. 25, 2015. He does not need to convene a new fact-finding body to bring out the facts that are already known. He has more than enough facts to base his course of action. In fact, he has already pronounced his conclusion.
As former Senator Juan Ponce Enrile pointed out at the Kapihan sa Plaridel at the Manila Hotel last Monday, where he and I shared the same forum, former President B. S. Aquino 3rd may be charged with treason for his role as commander-in-chief and chief operations officer of Oplan Exodus, the police operation at Mamasapano. Being no longer President, Aquino no longer enjoys immunity from suit. Aquino is blamed for the death of the 44 for ordering the military forces in the area to stand down instead of coming to the rescue of the commandos who were badly outnumbered and were desperately pleading for help.
Asked whether he could send Aquino to jail, were he to act as government prosecutor, Enrile, a successful lawyer before he became the country’s longest serving defense secretary and senator later, answered in the affirmative. One minor tragedy, though, is that while more than 10 TV cameras had recorded our kapihan, not a single line of Enrile’s statement disturbed the public domain. And despite his strong and definitive statements at the last Mamasapano memorial, DU30 has yet to instruct his Secretary of Justice to take the necessary steps to make Aquino accountable for the unwarranted death of the SAF 44.