THE REVIVED “Oplan Tokhang” anti-drug campaign kicked off peacefully in Quezon City with simultaneous operations in several households on Monday.
Quezon City Vice Mayor Joy Belmonte, Metro Manila Police chief Oscar Albayalde and Quezon City police director Guillermo Eleazar led the operation in Batasan Hills and talked to individuals right at the doorsteps of their respective homes on Kasayahan Street.
The second resident on the police watch list, identified as “Rodel,” said that he wondered why he was included, claiming he had stopped his illegal drug activities last year and even surrendered to authorities two months ago.
“Village officials knocked on my door and my drug test was negative. Maybe someone reported me to the authorities, but I will just surrender if needed,” he said.
Eleazar said residents had to be oriented with a 15-module rehabilitation program to let them know that they had nothing to fear when surrendering to the authorities.
Tokhang, a Visayan term for “knock and plead,” is the “lower barrel” of “Project Double Barrel,” with uniformed men visiting the house of an individual reportedly involved in drugs based on the police district’s watch list.
Eleazar reiterated that under new Tokhang rules, operations would be implemented by two eight-man teams for each police station on Mondays to Fridays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Pre-designated teams, or the tokhangers, must be led by a senior officer, accompanied by accredited media personnel, and members of the village anti-drug abuse council.
Police cannot force the residents who either refuse to identify themselves as suspects or receive the tokhangers.
Authorities who violate the new rules will be sanctioned and may likely be placed on floating status or relieved from their positions.
The “upper barrel” involves the serving of warrant of arrest, search operations, and drug-bust operations by uniformed and non-uniformed men from the Station Drug Enforcement Unit (SDEU) at any time of the day.
A total of 253 SDEU officials are eligible to conduct the Upper Barrel operation in Quezon City.
Less controversial, less violent
Malacañang is expecting a less controversial and less violent Oplan Tokhang with its re-launch on Monday.
In a news briefing, Palace spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said the Palace was hoping that the Philippine National Police (PNP) had learned from its experience.
“We’re certainly hoping [the re-launch will be less controversial]because controversy will only blur the real intentions behind Tokhang, which is the fight against dangerous drugs,” Roque said.
The PNP was removed from the drug war in October 2017 following reports of extrajudicial killings, which caused local and international uproar.
The deaths of Carl Angelo Arnaiz, Kian Loyd de los Santos and Reynaldo de Guzman, three teenagers accused of being drug peddlers, in August 2017, became the final straw.
The PNP however was brought back on board by President Rodrigo Duterte months after, but only in support of the lead agency, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency.
CBCP urges police to follow rule law
Also on Monday, the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles, urged policemen to observe the rule of law in dealing with drug suspects.
“We pray that the police follow the prescribed steps in implementing the law, steps that should be done in exercising their responsibility as policemen,” the CBCP president said in a statement.
“Let us inspire them to follow the necessary steps when they need to apprehend and as much as possible, we make sure that we do not waste any lives,” Valles added.
GLEE JALEA, RALPH VILLANUEVA AND ASHLEY ERIKA JOSE