MANILA - The Philippine National Police’s (PNP) Project ‘Tokhang” is not to be feared because it is a “more compassionate, rehabilitative approach” to the illegal drug problem, Solicitor General Jose Calida told Supreme Court magistrates during Tuesday’s resumption of oral arguments on consolidated petitions against government’s war on drugs.
Calida said Project "Tokhang," the “lower barrel” portion of the police anti-illegal drugs campaign known as “Double Barrel,” is geared towards drug users, to convince them to “change their ways and rehabilitate.”
“We made a difference between ‘tokhang’ and buy-bust operations… Project ‘Tokhang’ is geared towards the users, those addicts, and they can be rehabilitated if they are not yet crazy at the time. We have to differentiate this (‘Tokhang’) from a legitimate police operation where there are already witnesses who attest that these persons are selling drugs. They can conduct a buy-bust operation, there will be an operation where the police asset will buy ‘shabu’ and thereafter they will now conduct the buy-bust operation. This is no longer ‘tokhang,’” Calida said.
The top government lawyer defended the anti-illegal drugs campaign during his interpellation by Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, to whom the two petitions were raffled to; Associate Justice Marvic Leonen; and Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno who all questioned why it seemingly appears that ‘tokhang’ targets only the poor.
Calida explained that drug peddlers usually come from depressed areas, but added ‘Tokhang’ is also conducted in high-end subdivisions.
Derived from Visayan words “toktok,” meaning “knock, and “hangyo," meaning “plead,” Calida said ‘tokhang” makes use of persuasion to convince drug users to stop using drugs and rehabilitate, which is different from a buy-bust operation or service of a search warrant on suspected drug personalities, where drug pushers, manufacturers, and importers are targeted.
Calida said the latter is no longer part of Project ‘Tokhang” but of the “upper barrel” component of the anti-illegal drug campaign, dubbed Project High-Value Target (HVT).
Project ‘Tokhang’ and Project HVT are contained in PNP Command Memorandum Circular No. 16-2016, which is being challenged by petitioners before the high court, along with Department of the Interior and Local Government Memorandum Circular No. 2017-112, the Revised Guidelines on the Implementation of Mamamayang Ayaw sa Anomalya, Mamayang Ayaw sa Ilegal Na Droga (MASA MASID).
MASA MASID requires all cities, municipalities, and barangays to establish a system of reporting to gather and assess information regarding corruption, illegal drugs, criminality, violent extremism and other threats to peace and security.
The petitions were filed separately by the group of Aileen Almora, Rowena Aparri, and Jefferson Soriano; and that of Sister Ma. Juanita Daño.
Almora and Aparri are surviving relatives of two individuals killed by policemen in separate anti-illegal drugs operations, while Soriano himself survived a shooting; Daño’s group is composed mainly of residents of San Andres Bukid, Manila.
The oral arguments were concluded before 6 p.m.
Parties were directed to submit their respective memoranda within 60 days, after which the case shall be deemed submitted for resolution.