The problem with 'tokhang'

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 01 2017 04:40 PM

This picture taken on January 18, 2017, shows policemen investigating a body of an alleged drug user on the ground after an unidentified gunmen shot him dead in Manila. Noel Celis, AFP

MANILA – Senator Panfilo Lacson on Tuesday said he is backing the government's move to clean up the Philippine National Police while dialing down its own campaign against the war on drugs. 

Speaking to ANC's "Beyond Politics", Lacson said dissolving the Philippine National Police-Anti-Illegal Drugs Group sends the right message especially after its members were linked to the kidnapping and murder of a South Korean businessman. 

"I think it's a correct message to send to the people and even probably to the Korean government and the Korean people. Pero wag naman totally abandon yung war against drugs (Let's not totally abandon the war on drugs)," he said. 

Lacson, however, criticized the PNP's "Oplan Tokhang" (knock and plead) operations, saying the practice "could very well infringe on human rights and even privacy."

During "tokhang" operations, police officers go to the homes of suspected drug users and pushers and ask them to stop using illegal drugs. Some suspected users and pushers are even asked to go to the barangay hall to surrender and their names submitted to a list of drug suspects who have given up narcotics. 

Lacson said there have been instances when those targeted by "tokhang" operations end up dead. 

"There are several instances na na-tokhang, nag-surrender, and then na-lista and then napatay. So ito yung mga problema na dapat tinignan muna or even along the way while you're conducting the all-out war versus drugs," he said. 

The senator said one reason for the killings seems to be an abundance of passion by law enforcers to meet a six-month deadline to ride their areas of illegal drugs. President Rodrigo Duterte earlier promised to step down as president if the country had not curbed the drug problem in his first six months in office. 

"It seems na na-overwhelm sila noong yung passion at tsaka yung of course under pressure, three to six 6 months eh. So para bang 'sige, bara-bara na tayo, maka-kumpleto tayo kay Presidente.'" 

(It seemed that our authorities were overwhelmed by passion, and of course, pressure of a three- to six-month deadline. It was like: 'Ok, let's do whatever, as long as we complete this for the President.') 

Peter Cruz, 24, lies dead on the pavement after being gunned down while he was biking by unknown assailants on Guyabano street in Manggahan, Pasig City on Tuesday. Unexplained killings continue even as President Duterte ordered the halt in police operations against drug suspects on Monday. Fernando G. Sepe Jr., ABS-CBN News

On Wednesday an Amnesty International report said the wave of drugs-related killings since President Rodrigo Duterte came to power in mid-2016 appeared to be "systematic, planned and organized" by authorities and could constitute crimes against humanity.

Latest police data shows 7,669 people have been killed since Duterte unleashed his war on drugs seven months ago, 2,555 in police operations, which the police says were all in self-defense.

A senior police officer told Amnesty that police are "paid by the encounter", receiving the equivalent of at least $160 per killing and received nothing for making arrests.

Amnesty reported that some police are rewarded by undertakers for sending dead bodies their way, police steal from victims' homes, and paid killers are on the police payroll.

Lacson, a former PNP chief, said anti-illegal drugs operations should be grounded on good intelligence work.

"Without good intelligence, para kang naka-blindfold na suntok ka nang suntok, na kung sinong tamaan, bahala na. So I think they should put emphasis on intelligence. Pati na sa internal cleansing, they should rely more on their counter-intelligence units to find out who among doon sa ranks nila yung possibly or nakapag-commit na ng shenanigans."

(Without good intelligence, it is as if the authorities are wearing blindfolds and keep on throwing punches. I think they should put emphasis on intelligence. Even in internal cleansing, internal cleansing, they should rely more on their counter-intelligence units to find out who among their ranks have committed shenanigans.)

The senator also warned that President Duterte's earlier practice of naming alleged drug personalities based on intelligence reports or so-called 'narco-lists' may do more harm than good, calling it ill-advised.

"Because you know those are intelligence information, intelligence reports. While validated by may be several, by the intelligence community, siguro nag-undergo yan ng workshop, intelligence workshop. But then again, dapat guide lang yun sa law enforcement na ito yung babantayan ninyo kasi may mga reports ito, validated na."

(Because you know those are intelligence information, intelligence reports. While validated by may be several, by the intelligence community, perhaps they have undergone workshop, intelligence workshop. They should only serve as guide to law enforcement.)

Lacson added that rogue cops and drug suspects might take advantage of the leaked names.