HE has one of the toughest jobs in the country. Senior Superintendent Graciano Jaylo Mijares, “MJ” to friends, leads the Philippine National Police’s renewed war on drugs, launched by PNP Chief Ronald de la Rosa during yesterday’s flag ceremony at the national headquarters in Camp Crame. That ended the PNP’s month-long suspension from the bloody nationwide campaign.
Whatever they’re paying top police officers these days, it certainly can’t be worth all the aggravation Mijares faces as head of the new Drug Enforcement Group (DEG), which replaces the Anti-Illegal Drugs Group disbanded after AIDG officers were implicated in the kidnap-murder of Korean executive Jee Ick-joo.
Among top dogs barking at the DEG’s head are Chief De la Rosa, Interior and Local Government Secretary Ismael Sueno, who supervises the PNP; and, of course, President Rodrigo Duterte, who sent the police back to the narco-frontlines after trafficking surged while they were away.
Plus: countless rights advocates and groups here and abroad. They include virulent critics of the PNP’s “Tokhang” campaign like London-based Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch in New York, and the US State Department. All three have come out with hard-hitting reports on alleged extra-judicial killings in the anti-narcotics drive.
So, not only must Sr. Supt. Mijares squeeze the flow of narcotics on the streets. He must block another flood of blood swelling the 7,000-plus body count of suspected drug pushers and users killed under President Duterte. And of course, he must stay alive against ruthless drug syndicates bristling with guns, gunmen, and narco-millions.
No drugs and no deaths. Frankly, that sounds like a no-win assignment, even for a seasoned member of the 1988 Maringal class of the formidable Philippine Military Academy, whose last post before taking charge of the DEG was Deputy Regional Director for Administration in Region 3, the PNP’s No. 2 officer in Central Luzon.
PNP Chief De la Rosa said Mijares was chosen for his years of police work targeting organized crime. Like Duterte and De la Rosa, the PNP’s new anti-narcotics head hails from Mindanao, where “he’s a veteran of battles against kidnappers and drug lords,” said the PNP Chief. Plus: “He’s been shot at several times, so he’s not afraid to die.”
The new ‘Tokhang’
The challenge for Mijares, however, is stopping drugs without too much shooting. At the press conference following the Monday campaign relaunch, De la Rosa said the goal is that “Tokhang Revisited will be a less bloody, if not bloodless, campaign.”
To do that, the PNP Chief explained, tokhang operations will only be done by town police chiefs, station commanders, and precinct heads, rather than rank-and-file police. More important, officers conducting tokhang must coordinate with barangay or village officials and local religious leaders. Ideally, priests would join sorties aiming to persuade drug users to end the habit, and pushers to cease their illegal trade.
So, will this work?
Coordinating with community and church leaders would certainly help avoid killings. There may be initial problems in some places due to narco-politicians alerting tokhang targets. But police would quickly wise up to such schemes. And few barangay leaders would probably risk arrest or worse by helping drug offenders escape the law.
Keeping anti-drug operations in the hands of superior officers should also lessen abuses, since they would probably not put their mid-level ranks, reputations, and achievements in jeopardy by committing abuses and murder.
More crucial, the war on drugs must rev up strategies other than law enforcement. Foremost of these is interdicting smugglers and destroying shabu labs and stockpiles. Leading this effort is the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, which is opening 119 offices nationwide, and working with the military.
Besides squeezing supply, the anti-narcotics drive must slash demand. Not just be rounding up users, but helping rehabilitate them and dissuade others from joining their addicted ranks. State-Church cooperation would be most effective here, using the pulpit to preach against drugs, and tapping families to help their own beat the habit.
Some media asked De la Rosa whether his “internal cleansing” of the PNP has weeded out scalawags. He admitted that the national police “isn’t entirely clean. Internal cleansing is a continuing process.” In short, the PNP probably still has a good, or rather bad number of scalawags.
The big, if not bloody question then, is whether Tokhang 2 will crack down hard on rogue cops who commit more narco-killings? Not to mention the vigilantes rubbing out drug users and pushers, reportedly with local police allowing or even covering up killings, as alleged by Human Rights Watch.
Indeed, rights and rule-of-law advocates would not be satisfied with just an end to extrajudicial killings without bringing to justice the perpetrators of past EJKs. De la Rosa has said nothing about investigating and charging police and vigilantes for past deaths.
That may continue to be low priority, with the main PNP effort still focused on fighting drugs, which is also President Duterte’s main thrust. And judging from his public approval ratings, most Filipinos also favor continuing the war on drugs, though many are disturbed by the thousands of war-on-drugs deaths.
It’s the justice system, stupid
If Filipinos seem willing to accept thousands of EJKs in the battle against drugs and crime, the reason is plain: Most of us think due process would not stop wealthy, well-connected criminals and syndicates.
Indeed, the US State Department report on EJKs deplored the institutions of law enforcement and justice, saddled by a mammoth backlog of cases, dubious proceedings and judgments, mishandling of evidence, and plain corruption. In sum, the system of bringing crooks to justice fail woefully.
In the face of dismal due process, the lawless take advantage of the rule of law to evade the long arm of the law. So, those determined to stop crime often resort to extreme extralegal measures—with the people’s grudging consent.
Plainly, over the long term, the real battle against crime, drugs, and EJKs must be waged on the frontlines of criminal justice reform.