Philip­pines’ war on nar­cotics now ap­pears to ex­tend to a beer in pub­lic

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Nation & World - BY AURORA ALMENDRAL New York Times

When six plain­clothes po­lice­men, hands grip­ping their hol­stered guns, charged down the wind­ing al­leys of the slum where Ed­win Pa­nis lives, he didn’t imag­ine they could be com­ing for him.

Pa­nis, 45, was drink­ing beer with friends near his shack on an em­bank­ment over­look­ing Manila Bay. A steve­dore and neigh­bor­hood se­cu­rity of­fi­cer, he hardly fit the pro­file of the drug ad­dicts and deal­ers who have been tar­geted by the po­lice since Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte took of­fice – a bloody crack­down that Pa­nis, like many Filipinos, sup­ported.

But in mo­ments, he and his three friends were un­der ar­rest, hands cuffed be­hind them. Their of­fense: drink­ing beer in pub­lic.

“The war on drugs has be­come a war on drunks,” Pa­nis said bit­terly, days af­ter his re­lease from an over­crowded cell.

Two years into Duterte’s term, af­ter thou­sands of killings by po­lice of­fi­cers and vig­i­lantes in his crack­down on nar­cotics, the gov­ern­ment’s cam­paign against crime has taken a new turn.

Last month, he au­tho­rized the na­tional po­lice to start ar­rest­ing peo­ple for in­frac­tions like drink­ing in the streets, pub­lic uri­na­tion or even be­ing out­doors with­out a shirt – violations that were pre­vi­ously dealt with by neigh­bor­hood se­cu­rity of­fi­cers like Pa­nis.

Since then, more than 50,000 peo­ple have been rounded up for such mi­nor of­fenses.

There has not been blood­shed of the kind seen in Duterte’s crack­down on drugs, though at least one de­tainee has died in po­lice cus­tody. Still, in Manila’s slums, where most of the drug war killings have taken place, many now fear that the small­est in­frac­tion might cost them their lives.

“There’s no way not to be scared,” said Amy Jane Pablo, 37, who lives near Pa­nis in the Tondo slum and wit­nessed his ar­rest.

In a speech in early June, af­ter the high-pro­file killings of a preg­nant lawyer in the Manila area and a priest who was shot dead in a small-town church, Duterte said there were “sim­ply too many crimes” and promised “rad­i­cal changes in the days to come.” Days later, he said that peo­ple idling in the streets were “po­ten­tial trou­ble for the pub­lic.”

The crack­down be­gan im­me­di­ately after­ward. Within a week, the na­tional po­lice had ar­rested 7,000 peo­ple – Pa­nis among them – for loi­ter­ing, pub­lic drink­ing and other al­leged violations of neigh­bor­hood or­di­nances.

The new policy has sim­i­lar­i­ties to the “bro­ken win­dows” ap­proach to policing adopted a gen­er­a­tion ago by some U.S. cities, which held that crack­ing down vis­i­bly on mi­nor in­frac­tions would lead to a drop in ma­jor crimes. In­spec­tor Ado­nis Sugui, chief in­ves­ti­ga­tor at the Tondo po­lice sta­tion, de­fended the cam­paign, say­ing that “most of our crimes start with drink­ing in pub­lic places.”

“They have a drink, they hold peo­ple up, shoot each other, cause mis­chief,” Sugui said. “Pres­i­dent Duterte is right. Once they start drink­ing, their mind is al­tered.”

Car­los Conde, a re­searcher for Hu­man Rights Watch in Manila, said the cam­paign amounted to “ex­pand­ing the drug war to other crimes, us­ing the same meth­ods – just brute po­lice force.”

“They’re say­ing we com­mit­ted crimes, even if we didn’t,” Pablo, Pa­nis’ neigh­bor, said on her doorstep, just across a nar­row al­ley from where the ar­rest hap­pened. “They’re just pluck­ing peo­ple off the street.”

Af­ter his ar­rest, Pa­nis was put into an out­door cell so crowded that he spent the night on his feet, lean­ing against a few dozen other men who had been de­tained. The next day, they were bused to City Hall for a hear­ing and then re­leased, told to wait for a sub­poena to ap­pear in court.

“If they don’t like what you’re do­ing, they ar­rest you,” Pa­nis said.

Some have com­pared the crack­down to mar­tial law – a sen­si­tive sub­ject in the Philip­pines, where the years of mil­i­tary rule un­der dic­ta­tor Fer­di­nand Mar­cos are still remembered. Duterte, an ad­mirer of Mar­cos, im­posed mar­tial law in the south­ern Philip­pines af­ter an Is­lamic up­ris­ing last year.

Duterte’s new crack­down is not mar­tial law, which would in­volve the sus­pen­sion of nor­mal law and the im­po­si­tion of mil­i­tary rule. Still, Jose Manuel Dio­kno, dean of the De La Salle Uni­ver­sity Col­lege of Law in Manila, said the com­par­i­son was “very apt.”

He said mar­tial law un­der Mar­cos, which lasted from 1972 to 1981, be­gan with the en­force­ment of “ridicu­lous rules.” Men with long hair had their heads forcibly shaved and peo­ple who vi­o­lated cur­few were caught and pun­ished.

“It ended with the ar­rest, tor­ture, de­ten­tion and dis­ap­pear­ance of so many young peo­ple who were branded as en­e­mies of the state,” Dio­kno said.

On a re­cent Fri­day night in Don Bosco, a neigh­bor­hood in Tondo, eight po­lice­men on mo­tor­cy­cles pa­trolled the densely packed slum. Its res­i­dents live as much in the al­leys as in their cramped, of­ten makeshift homes, and they were out­doors late into the night, play­ing bingo, singing karaoke, cook­ing and other­wise whiling away the hours.

The of­fi­cers told chil­dren to go home, and they chased down men who had gath­ered around bot­tles of beer or gin. Within half an hour, they had picked up two men for not wear­ing shirts and four oth­ers for drink­ing on their doorsteps.

“I’m just cool­ing off, sir,” one shirt­less man protested meekly, be­fore an of­fi­cer or­dered him onto the back of a mo­tor­cy­cle to be taken to the po­lice sta­tion.

There has been strong pub­lic op­po­si­tion to the crack­down, fu­eled in part by what ap­peared to be par­tic­u­larly egre­gious ar­rests. A closed-cir­cuit video of the po­lice ar­rest­ing a man who had briefly stepped out­doors with­out a shirt went vi­ral.

The death in cus­tody of another man ar­rested for be­ing shirt­less – the spe­cific of­fense is “caus­ing alarm and scan­dal” – has led to calls for a Se­nate in­ves­ti­ga­tion. The po­lice ini­tially said the man, Ge­n­e­sis Ar­g­oncillo, 25, who was ar­rested just out­side his home, had suf­fo­cated be­cause his cell was over­crowded.

But a photo of the corpse showed se­vere bruis­ing, and an au­topsy con­firmed he had died of blunt force trauma.

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