As­tute one step back on anti-drug cam­paign

The Philippine Star - - OPINION - SATUR C. OCAMPO

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.


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