The spirit of ‘Tokhang,’ if implemented properly, is bloodless. That’s why it’s called ‘knock and plead.’”
Those are the words of Philippine National Police Director General Ronald dela Rosa, talking about the flagship law-enforcement program of the Duterte administration. But those clarifying remarks appear to have come too little and too late; Dela Rosa was speaking last Jan. 13, in the runup to the PNP’s announced relaunch of the controversial program later in that month, or one year and a half since Oplan Tokhang was officially green-lighted by the then newly elected President Duterte.
By this time, over 4,000 drug personalities have been killed, according to the PNP’s own records. Independent observers, journalists and “nightcrawlers,” who have kept a courageous, harrowing vigil on the spate of deaths of ordinary, mostly destitute Filipinos month after month all this time, believe the numbers are much higher. These are on top of the high-profile cases—the gruesome kidnapping of Korean businessman Jee Ick-joo by cops and his murder right inside Camp Crame, for instance, or the killing of teenager Kian delos Santos by police operatives (CCTV footage showed the 17-year-old being taken away)—over which resulting public outrage forced Malacañang to suspend Tokhang operations temporarily.
The supposedly “bloodless” program, in the words of its chief implementer, had turned into exactly the opposite: a bloodbath so pervasive, cheered on by the President no less who has spoken repeatedly of killing drug suspects, that a startled international community could not but take notice. A preliminary investigation by the International Criminal Court into possible crimes against humanity committed in the course of the brutal drug crackdown has been announced.
When Tokhang was taken off the PNP’s hands and transferred to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, the PDEA’s actions strongly belied the police’s oft-repeated claim of the necessity of force and killing suspects in carrying out its operations. With over 2,800 arrests tallied, only two have died in PDEA operations from Oct. 11 to Dec. 27, 2017, records show. It also reported arresting “987 drug personalities—29 of them government employees—rescued 14 minors, dismantled six clandestine laboratories and eight drug dens… eradicated 18 marijuana plantation sites and seized 41.83 kilograms of crystal meth, also known as shabu,” according to a report in this paper.
Despite the obvious disparity in results, Mr. Duterte has ordered the PNP to once again rejoin the drug operations—hence Dela Rosa’s attempt to soothe public anxiety with the promise that the program would be “bloodless” this time. “We will make sure … that police will do the true Tokhang, not one that is vulnerable to police whims,” he added.
Those words were as good an admission as any that the previous campaign was indeed steeped in unprecedented blood, violence and police abuse. If Dela Rosa now vows less carnage and greater adherence to the PNP’s drug operation protocols, he could start by turning his sights on his own organization and weeding out the corrupt, murderous elements in its midst. Police personnel involved in the killing of Mayor Rolando Espinosa of Albuera, Leyte, are back in active service, for instance; the ex-leader of the group implicated in the Jee Ick-joo slay has even been promoted; and the two cops caught moonlighting as vigilantes in the killing of anticrime crusader Zenaida Luz in Oriental Mindoro are likewise back on duty.
Last Tuesday, lawyer Argel Joseph Cabatbat not only escaped an ambush on Edsa, he was also able to kill one of his three attackers by ramming their motorcycle with his car. The dead suspect was identified as PO1 Mark Boquela Ayeras, a policeman on active duty. Un-uprooted criminal cops like him are at the core of the rot at the PNP, and a continuing black mark on Dela Rosa’s record.
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