MANILA, Philippines – The human rights group Karapatan called the relaunch of Oplan Tokhang as “a superficial makeover” of a policy that it said was “ineffective” and “fundamentally wrong.” And, in separate developments, the Catholic bishops and a church-backed support group for families of alleged victims of extra-judicial killings appealed to government to ensure the violence that attended Tokhang is not repeated.
“The relaunch of the police and Duterte administration’s Oplan Tokhang, after being suspended twice in 2017, is a tacit admission that there is something fundamentally wrong with these policies regarding the drug war,” Cristina Palabay, Karapatan secretary general, said in a statement.
“Yet, here is Duterte and his Philippine National Police (PNP) again, trying to shove what the Filipino people have already spewed out. It is a superficial makeover of a policy that has earned public condemnation,” the group added.
Palabay noted that Oplan Tokhang remains the same as Oplan Double Barrel despite the presence of new guidelines.
On December 5, 2017, President Duterte issued Memorandum No. 17 that brought back the PNP in the conduct of anti-illegal drug operations. The memorandum noted the resurgence in illegal drug activities and crimes linked to illegal drugs, which necessitated the return of the police at the helm of the campaign together with the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency.
“The fact that this memo admits resurgence in illegal drug activities merely indicates that the more than a year of Oplan Tokhang and Oplan Double Barrel has been ineffective. Such a militarist approach ignores the multifaceted nature of the problem, primarily its economic roots,” Palabay said.
“The entire campaign has snowballed into a display of blatant lies, police brutality, injustice and the seemingly endless pit of drug trade. This is precisely because such a short-sighted solution will inevitably fail to solve a comprehensive, deep-rooted problem,” she added.
Karapatan also questioned provisions indicated in the PNP Supplemental Operational Guidelines in the Conduct of Tokhang, particularly the involvement of human rights advocates in the PNP’s operations between 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“It doesn’t matter if operations are only between 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., if you have a corrupt police force who disrespects human rights and considers themselves above the law, violations are inevitable regardless of the time,” the group said.
PRIEST: KIN OF EJK VICTIMS IN FEAR
Meanwhile, a Catholic priest who has been providing help to families of victims of alleged extra-judicial killings in the war on drugs said these people are now living in fear again owing to the relaunch of Oplan Tokhang.
Rev. Fr. Gilbert Billena, spokesperson of Rise Up for Life and for Rights that provides spiritual solace and guidance to relatives of victims of drug-related killings, many of these families are apprehensive because they fear a repeat of the bloody statistics that marked the first phase of the drug war. Then, thousands of drug suspects were killed – either by State agents like cops or supposed vigilantes that some investigative reports also linked to the police.
In Billena’s view, the war on drugs has, rather than focused on the real roots of the problem, merely cracked down on small-time drug-users, pushers and runners.
“Ito po yung paninindigan ng Rise Up kasama yung mga biktima mismo mga nanay, tatay at mga anak kung saan ang mga mahal nila sa buhay ay pinaslang. So malaking takot naman nila ngayon na malaman nila na irerelaunch uli ang Tokhang dahil batay sa ating karanasan kung saan talagang madugo ito, madugong kampanya laban sa droga na eventually naging kampanya laban sa mga biktima mismo nitong droga.”
[This is what Rise Up and the parents and offspring of the victims of the war are standing up for. They are in great fear on learning that Tokhang will be relaunched because based on their experience, this is a bloody, violent campaign],” said Billena in an interview with Radyo Veritas.
Nonetheless, Billena stressed that his organization supports the campaign to wipe out the scourge of illegal drugs because of its deleterious affect on society and on families. But, he said, those waging the war should have respect for life at all times.
Meanwhile, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) appealed to government to ensure the violence that attended the drug war, resulting in the deaths of thousands, does not happen again.
CBCP President and Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles said police should always follow strictly Standard Operating Procedures and whatever new guidelines are laid down for Oplan Tokhang