A human rights group on Saturday warned of more egregious abuses and mistakes by the police following their “relaunch” of Oplan Tokhang to address the illegal drug menace, despite their vow to have it “bloodless.”
“There will be blood (and possible crimes against humanity),” Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said in a tweet.
However, President Rodrigo Duterte, who allowed the Philippine National Police to return to the drug war despite several high-profile deaths involving minors, defended his orders anew and insisted he will not stop fighting the drug problem until his last day of office in Malacañang.
“So it started. Now, I am President. I will insist on [stopping] corruption. It has to stop. I will fight the drug problem to the last day of my term. It will not stop,” Duterte said, despite unrelenting international and local pressures from human rights advocates.
The President also denied that the drug war is anti-poor, despite reports that more than 2,000 people were killed, most of them indigent.
This is the second time the PNP is rejoining the war on drugs. Oplan Tokhang has seen thousands of drug personalities killed since 2016 when Duterte took office, and PNP officials admitting there were cases of mistaken identity and police abuses.
PNP chief Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, however, said the cops will instead literally “knock and plead” ― “toktok” and “hangyo” in Cebuano, hence Tokhang—and ask them to stop their illegal activities.
The PNP stopped Oplan Tokhang and other operations against illegal drugs in October last year, after Duterte ordered the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency to take the lead in the anti-drug campaign following public outcry over the killing of several minors in police drug enforcement operations.
An oversight committee would monitor police commanders to ensure the “true spirit” of Tokhang is implemented, Dela Rosa said.
The President admitted he underestimated the seriousness of the drug problem in the country and gauged his approach to that of Davao City.
“I was wrong when I said that I could stop it but at that time, I was uttering the words when I was only mayor of Davao City,” Duterte said.
“But I was a bit successful in cleaning the city, a certain degree. But really, to make it drug-free is something which is really impossible,” he added.
It was not until after he took office, Duterte admitted, that he had access to all information about drugs and its dimension in the entire country—despite declaring, “I’ll finish [the drug war] within three months.”
Meanwhile, the Palace said it respects the decision of the Office of the Solicitor General to decline with complying with a Supreme Court directive to submit documents related to the drug war, after they cited alleged “national security” concerns.
“The Solicitor General is a statutory counsel of the Republic, [and] we respect their decision,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said.
In a 14-page motion for reconsideration, Solicitor General Jose Calida asked the SC to set aside its order dated Dec. 5, 2017 and recall its directive for the Office of the Solicitor Generals to submit the information and documents mentioned in the order.
Calida said that order “might send unrealistic expectations to present and prospective amparo petitioners that sensitive government documents will always be available to them even if they fail to comply with the amparo rule. This will set a dangerous precedent for the lower courts hearing amparo cases.”
“It would open the floodgates for the filing of groundless petitions that aim at nothing other than engaging in fishing expeditions. Moreover, amparo petitions may be utilized and manipulated by drug syndicates themselves to discover the amount of confidential information that the government has against them,” he added.
The President expressed his frustration with the involvement of law enforcers and officials and local officials in the drug trade, saying even police, the customs and many more became his foes and was faced a formidable groups of syndicate.
He said no one cannot go into a drug business without an organization, and that the war on drugs is hindered by the syndicate using minors in distributing illegal drugs.