A police official denied Thursday police were doing on-the-spot drug tests in one of Manila's poorest neighborhoods so that those who test positive could be added to watch lists of known drug users.
Director Oscar Albayalde of the National Capital Region Police Office said the tests are aimed at helping drug users to undergo rehabilitation.
"The motive there is to help them rehab themselves. It's not for them to be listed, not for them to be 'tokhang'-ed later on. The motive there is for them to be rehabilitated. There is an active rehab program in Quezon City," he said in an ANC Early Edition interview.
Albayalde clarified the tests are not supposed to be done house-to-house but that some residents want police to go to their homes. He added that the on-the-spot drug tests are voluntary.
"Really, it's not a house-to-house drug test. They were inviting the people, the residents there, to the barangay hall. But some people they say they'd rather the policeman go to their house," he said.
Carrying drug testing kits, police officers accompanied by community officials were seen by Reuters going to houses asking residents if they were willing to submit urine samples.
Rights groups have condemned the campaign as harassment that could endanger lives.
Payatas, one of the most populated sub-districts, or barangays, in the capital's Quezon City neighborhood, has been identified as a crime-prone area with a serious drug problem. Community leaders said they requested help from police, and testing was voluntary.
Residents say more than 300 of the 130,000 people in Payatas are already on a drug "watch list" drawn up last year by community leaders of known addicts.
Barangay watch lists are drawn up by community leaders to identify those in need of rehabilitation, but activists say some of those who appeared on them have become targets for assassination. The authorities deny the watch lists serve as hit-lists.
"Our goal is to have a drug-free barangay this year," Payatas barangay secretary Marlene Ocampo told Reuters, adding the village council agreed to fund and conduct free and voluntary drug testing, which could take four to five months.
"We only asked the police to help us and we are grateful," she said. "We have more than 133,000 residents."
She said there were no complaints, and many residents agreed to undergo tests.
"This is also good for us," said Maria Luisa Valdez, a 37-year-old food vendor. "We are clean. We don't do drugs so why would be afraid to take the test."
The head of the National Union of People's Lawyers, Edre Olalia, said police were on a "fishing expedition" to draw up a list of drug users, and doubted the testing was voluntary.
"It is presumably illegal and unconstitutional on its face especially when it is blanket, involuntarily and arbitrary," Olalia said. "It violates the right to privacy and against self-incrimination and basic human dignity." "It is anti-poor and discriminatory," he added. Human rights groups stress that Duterte's crackdown has overwhelmingly targeted the poor, and those killed are mainly drug users or low-level pushers from families with no resources to challenge official police accounts.
Quezon City police chief Guillermo Eleazar said the tests were limited to Payatas and police were only helping the community. With Reuters