Astute one step back on anti-drug campaign
Apparently stung by the steep drops in his satisfaction and trust ratings, as shown by the latest Social Weather Stations survey, President Duterte has taken a one-step backward in his widely criticized and condemned bloody anti-illegal drug campaign, led by the Philippine National Police. He had earlier expressed his concern about preserving his credibility to enable him to continue leading the nation.
In an October 10 memorandum, he has designated the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) as “sole agency” to conduct all campaigns and operations against all those involved in illegal drugs. The move, the memo says, is aimed at bringing “order to the operation/campaign against illegal drugs, thus pinpointing precise accountability.”
“All information/data received by the NBI, PNP, AFP, Bureau of Customs, Philippine Postal Office and all other agencies or any and all ad hoc anti-drug task forces shall forthwith be relayed, delivered or brought to the attention of the PDEA for appropriate action,” the memo states.
Cryptically, however, Duterte said: “The PNP shall, at all times, maintain police visibility, as a deterrent to illegal drug activities… Strict compliance is hereby enjoined.”
Moreover, questions may be raised as to whether the PDEA – with only 1,038 agents in its roster (as compared with the PNP’s 175,000 manpower complement) – can more responsively and more effectively undertake the task: Duterte himself has acknowledged that the drug problem may remain for the rest of his term.
What the move shows is Duterte’s political astuteness beneath his often disconcerting volatility and rashness in speaking and acting on key aspects of his administration’s governance and policies. These include, for instance, the peace negotiations with the Left revolutionary forces and his avowed “independent foreign policy.”
Having said that, one may as well watch for the President’s next move vis-àvis the GRP-NDFP peace talks, which he has “cancelled” since his second state-ofthe-nation address last July.
Think about this: Although he has kept on saying he no longer wanted to talk peace with the Left, he has refrained from sending a formal notice to the NDFP leadership terminating the talks. In fact, he has allowed – or directed -- his chief peace negotiator, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, to say at a recent Malacanang briefing that the peace talks can still continue, since Duterte has only cancelled but not abandoned the negotiations.
Back to the drug issue – over which Duterte is most touchy, bilious and truculent, as his recent tirades and cursing at the European Union has proven – what does the removal of the PNP from its lead role in the campaign aim to achieve?
The instant effect of Duterte’s memo is that the PNP has stopped the implementation of its two principal anti-drug campaigns: “Oplan Tokhang” and “Project Double Barrel.” Oplan Tokhang entailed a police door-to-door campaign ostensi- bly to convince drug users to surrender for rehabilitation. Under Project Double Barrel, the police conducted sweeping drives in slum areas where they admitted killing more than 3,800 suspected drug pushers/users, who allegedly resisted arrest and fought back. Thousands of other killings have been attributed to so-called vigilantes.
By ceasing the two police campaigns, Duterte may have taken the wind out of two “stop-the-killings” initiatives.
One was the filing last Wednesday before the Supreme Court, by the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), of a petition asking the tribunal to stop the implementation of Oplan Double Barrel. The petition says the Oplan “violates the right to life, to due process of law, to be presumed innocent and to a fair trial by expressly authorizing the summary killling of suspected drug offenders in the guise of ‘neutralizing’ or ‘negating’ them.” It also claims Oplan Tokhang is unconstitutional because the house visits “are not limited to drug suspects and based on furtive fingers of unknown informants.”
However, the SC can still entertain the petition with regard to its plea for the issuance of a writ of amparo and temporary protection order prohibiting the police from getting near the residences or work places of the petitioners: the families of two victims of extrajudicial killings (Ryan Dave Almora and Rex Aparri) and a survivor (Jefferson Soriano) in a police anti-narcotics operation. Also, the petition asks for an impartial investigation of the two incidents, and for the court to set oral arguments on the cases.
The other initiative which may be adversely affected by Duterte’s memo is the open invitation by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) to the general public to join an activity at the People Power Monument on Edsa on Nov. 5, a Sunday. Its aim: to start a 33-day “healing period” after the Catholic Church’s 40day “Stop the Killings” campaign that began on Sept. 23 with the ringing of church bells, praying of the rosary, and candle lighting at all churches nationwide.
The activity starts with a mass at the Edsa Shrine, followed by a candlelight procession to and massing-up around the monument. The image of Our Lady of Fatima, revered by Catholics (and which, during the peaceful popular uprising in 1986, was brought by devotees to Edsa in an effort to quell troops loyal to Marcos), will be carried during the candlelight procession, according to Archbishop Socrates Villegas, CBCP president.
Will the drug-related killings be reduced consequent to the scrapping of the Oplans and the lead role of the PNP? Perhaps, yes. But even if that happens, the publicly demanded impartial investigation of the previous killings, which largely victimized the poor, must be unrelentingly pursued and completed by prosecuting and penalizing those who are accountable.
Retributive justice is what the victims of the killings, their families, and the whole nations seek and deserve.