While Filipinos are gripped by the tragic events in Marawi, there is less attention given to the dead bodies that continue to pile up in the ongoing war on drugs.
Stories from residents of a number of barangays in Metro Manila indicate disturbing patterns in the actions of unscrupulous policemen. There is a shift from official drug operations conducted by policemen to vigilante-style killings by unidentified men in masks and civilian clothes. There is less of the former, and more of the latter. Nevertheless, the presence of men in uniform guarding the perimeter and their seeming coordination with the gunmen suggest that some policemen are behind the vigilante killings.
The killings are done at night, between 10:30 p.m. and 3 a.m. Masked men in civilian clothes do not introduce themselves, explain their presence, or produce any warrant. They simply barge into houses and shoot despite the suspect being defenseless. Suspects are killed even if they are sleeping, surrendering, or cowering in fear.
In instances where the killings happen during police operations, the victims’ families complain that evidence of guns and illegal drugs are planted at the place of the incident. It will not be a surprise if many of the recovered guns would turn out to be recycled evidence in multiple police operations.
If Philippine National Police Director General Ronald dela Rosa seriously wants to rid the police force of rogue cops, he should require an inventory of all guns supposedly recovered from victims reported to have engaged policemen in shootouts.
In many drug-operation killings that happen in urban poor communities, either no Scene of the Crime Operatives arrive, or they arrive to destroy, not to preserve, evidence.
After the suspect is killed, anyone found in the home of the suspect who witnessed the killing or anyone who might complain is taken into police custody, accused of the nonbailable offense of selling illegal drugs, detained, and charged in court. Thus, the victims are not just those killed, but also family members, relatives, neighbors, or friends who are detained or threatened.
The intention behind the filing of false charges is to silence the victim’s family and friends, and to ensure that they will not file charges against the police. With a loved one virtually held hostage in prison, there is the instilled fear that something terrible might happen to him or her if the policemen are displeased.
But despite the bloody nature of the campaign against illegal drugs, it continues to enjoy extensive public support based on survey results. Two reasons may explain this.
First, past administrations failed to effectively address the serious drug problem. The number of Filipinos severely frustrated with that past neglect corresponds to the segment of the population that rabidly supports the current bloody campaign. Sadly, however, the rogue cops who made the drug trade flourish in the past have not been weeded out and are instead sanctified as antidrug crusaders. Worse, even with their criminal predisposition still unreformed, they have been assured of blanket protection by the current administration.
Second, the administration has painted a composite image of the drug user as one who wantonly commits rape, robbery, or murder. For zealous supporters, every person killed in drug operations fits the composite image of a drug user without a doubt. Sadly, however, there is no evidence offered to support this wholesale condemnation that all drug users are automatically rapists, robbers, or murderers.
In one barangay in Metro Manila, policemen brazenly enter houses or accost persons in the streets in the course of supposed instant inspections without benefit of any court-issued warrant. It is said that when a resident mustered the courage to complain and ask if there was no longer any law in this country, a policeman smugly answered: “Kami ang batas (We are the law).”
The policeman has beaten President Duterte to the draw and has declared martial law nationwide.
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