At the beginning of the Duterte administration, the term “tokhang
” was used to identify the one aspect of the government campaign against illegal drugs.
It’s a combination of “toktok
” and “hangyo
,” knocking and pleading, describing the approach, at least in theory, adopted by the Philippine National Police.
The idea was to come to the homes of individuals suspected of drug use or sale, and to invite them for a talk about how they could shed their habit and return to being productive members of society, or to ask them to peacefully surrender.
Over the next few months, however, the term “tokhang
” earned, not acclaim, but notoriety. It became synonymous with a ruthless, thoughtless approach by the police, normally in impoverished communities, in barging into homes, hauling off suspects onto the streets, and shooting them because they either resisted arrest or put up a fight.
In fact, the campaign has become so notorious that the President had to transfer the leadership of the anti-drug campaign to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency—undermanned and underfunded as it was.
But now the PNP has been tapped to rejoin the efforts, and already its chief, Director General Ronald dela Rosa, assured the public the “true spirit” of “tokhang
” will be observed this time around.
The PNP chief also warned policemen against committing abuses, whether or not their pay would be increased.
This time around, there would be greater accountability among arresting officials.
The head of the PDEA, Aaron Aquino, suggested dropping the term “tokhang
” this year because it has been associated with many shady activities that frustrate the objective and spirit of the anti-drug drive.
We agree, but we also point out it’s just a name.
Dropping a name will do only so much. A change in the manner the campaign is conducted is what will convince the people the anti-drug war is serious and credible.
That we all want to defeat the drug menace is a given. This time around, however, we will watch whether the change is real, taking into consideration human rights, due process and basic decency.