ONLY a few days after the Social Weather Stations (SWS) released the results of its latest survey that showed a steep drop in President Rodrigo Duterte’s satisfaction and trust ratings, moves to arrest the slide are being made. The first two moves address one of the several issues that the Duterte administration faced last month, which encompasses the period when the survey was conducted. I am referring to the extra-judicial killings (EJKs) in the war against illegal drugs.
Last Tuesday, the president issued a memorandum to law enforcers ordering them to let the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) be the “sole agency” to conduct anti-illegal drug campaigns and operations. The Philippine National Police (PNP), meanwhile, was told to “at all times maintain police visibility as a deterrent to illegal drug activities.” The memo based the order on Republic Act No. 9165 (Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002) wherein PDEA’s task was outlined.
Yesterday, PNP Chief Ronald dela Rosa ordered a halt to the PNP’s anti-illegal drugs operations, including Oplan Tokhang (“Toktok-Hangyo”), Oplan Double Barrel and even the controversial reporting of drug suspects in the barangays using the drop box system. This would mean the PNP will now focus on other forms of criminality and on internal cleansing.
This is not an unprecedented move, though, because the president and dela Rosa did the same in January this year months after the killing of Korean businessman Jee Ick-joo in October last year. An investigation into the killing showed the involvement of elements of the PNP Anti-Illegal Drugs Group. All special police groups involved in the war on drug were dissolved, with dela rosa promising to conduct a cleansing of the PNP ranks.
Oplan Double Barrel, though, was reloaded and Oplan Tokhang 2 launched in the first week of March with the understanding that the cleansing process was already complete. “This time, we will make sure it will be less bloody, if not bloodless,” dela Rosa had promised then. In August, what can be considered as the bloodiest anti-drug campaign happened in Bulacan (32 killed in 24 hours), Manila (25 killed in one sweep) and the Caloocan-Malabon-Navotas-Valenzuela area (24 killed, also in one sweep). The last operation included the killing of minor Kian delos Santos.
With PDEA taking the lead in the war against illegal drugs, the expectation is that the killings would lessen and abuses minimized. This can therefore be considered a recognition by the president that there is something wrong in the conduct of his anti-illegal drugs campaign despite strong denials of human rights violations and EJKs. It is also an admission that the EJK issue has the potentials of pulling him down in popularity surveys.
But can these moves arrest the downward slide in the president’s satisfaction and trust ratings? It can. The problem is that the issue on EJKs was not the only one that hounded the duterte administration last month. There were also the smuggling of P6.4 billion worth of shabu and the anti-graft office’s investigation into the president’s alleged bank deposits. Let’s see how the president’s strategists will address those issues.