PHILIPPINE National Police (PNP) Chief Ronald “Bato” de la Rosa officially terminated on Thursday anti-illegal drug operations under “Oplan Tokhang” and “Oplan Double Barrel,” under heavy international and local pressure amid the killings of thousands of suspects.
President Rodrigo Duterte himself signed a memorandum ordering the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) to take over anti-drug operations.
De la Rosa told reporters the PNP would cease to take part in any case related to illegal drugs. The police will focus on unresolved cases of street killings committed by motorcycle-riding men, he said.
The national police chief vowed to clean up the PNP ranks and tighten “internal cleansing,” adding that rogue policemen would be relieved and sent to retraining to be fit again for service.
The killings of three teenagers, Kian Loyd de los Santos, Carl Angelo Arnaiz and Reynaldo de Guzman, in August sparked public outrage and drew widespread condemnation, with the Catholic Church ordering the tolling of bells until All Souls’ Day in protest. Bishops offered sanctuary to conscience-stricken policemen who wanted to testify on the killings.
Public satisfaction on the drug war has taken a hit, with the second-quarter survey of the Social Weather Stations indicating that 73 percent of Filipinos were worried about becoming victims of extra-judicial killings.
Ninety percent said it was important that drug suspects captured be kept alive.
The PNP stopped anti-drug operations in January after the October 2016 killing of Korean businessman Jee Ick Joo by police officers, right inside the PNP’s Camp Crame headquarters, became public.
“Tokhang” and “Double Barrel” however resumed in March under a new PNP anti-illegal drugs unit.
Reduced street peddling
The sidelining of the PNP in the government’s anti-drug operations was due to reduced street peddling of illegal drugs, a Palace official said.
Palace spokesman Ernesto Abella justified President Duterte’s order designating the PDEA as the sole agency in anti-drug operations, noting that street peddling of illegal drugs had decreased under the PNP’s Oplan Tokhang and Oplan Double Barrel.
Oplan Double Barrel had two objectives: first, going after high-value targets or big-time drug dealers, and second, Oplan Tokhang wherein policemen supposedly only knocked on the houses of drug suspects to convince them to surrender.
Based on PNP records, at least 3,800 people have been killed in anti-drug operations.
“PDEA becomes the sole agency to conduct the anti-drug operations because the street distribution of the illegal drugs has been degraded. So, we now target higher echelons of the syndicates, as well as their protectors in government,” Abella said.
“This [memo]would also mean that PDEA will also lead in the establishing of a broad anti-drug coalition wherein agencies, local government units, civil society groups, the Church, business, academe and media will work together to push [drug]prevention and [drug dependents’]rehabilitation initiatives,” Abella added.
CHR welcomes end of Tokhang
The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) on Thursday welcomed President Duterte’s decision to tag the PDEA as the sole agency responsible for anti-drug operations.
“We are hopeful and confident that with the professionalism and expertise of PDEA in implementing Republic Act (RA) 9165, the campaign against drugs will be carried out with strict adherence to the rule of law,” CHR spokeswoman Jacquelyn de Guia said in a statement.
RA 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Law mandates PDEA to “provide effective mechanisms or measures to reintegrate into society individuals who have fallen victims to drug abuse or dangerous drug dependence through sustainable programs of treatment and rehabilitation.”
“This new development also is a good indication that the administration listens to the public’s clamor for the protection and promotion of human rights and mirrors their commitment to do so,” de Guia said.
WITH LLANESCA T. PANTI AND MARY GLEEFER JALEA