PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte apologized yesterday for naming three officials in Pangasinan among those who allegedly conspired with Sen. Leila de Lima in the illegal drug trade when she was justice secretary.
He admitted there were mistakes in the drug matrix that he had made public and said he was “very sorry” to have dragged Rep. Amado Espino, Provincial Board Member Raul Sison and Pangasinan Provincial Administrator Rafael Baraan into the accusations that drug lords lived it up and continued to run illegal drug rings while inside the national penitentiary.
The President’s apology was also an admission that some form of oversight exists in his administration’s war on drugs. It’s an assurance that these accusations go through some review; that those who had been wrongly accused will be acknowledged. How well that acknowledgment will repair their reputations, no one can tell, for now.
We recognize the obvious increase in the number and intensity of anti-drug operations by the police and other public agencies. Their efforts to persuade hundreds of thousands to give up illegal drugs is also noteworthy. These would be more laudable once the facilities and services these thousands need for rehabilitation are in place.
The increased intensity is so marked that even some of those the campaign has hurt cannot help but commend it. Supt. Rex Derilo, before he went to Camp Crame yesterday to answer allegations that he had protected a self-confessed drug lord, told GMA 7 that the police felt “emboldened” to fight drug trafficking as soon as Duterte’s presidency began.
One of the challenges the police now face is to try to remove doubts that the state is looking the other way while suspected drug figures are executed by groups or individuals that have managed to stay in the shadows. How many suspected killers have been identified? How many have been arrested?
It is this lack of details and the observation that “no efforts are (being) made at accountability” that have convinced Human Rights Watch to lament this “profound setback for human rights and the rule of law in the Philippines.”
We know that the police assess their progress in the war on drugs each week. Some police offices even tweet about these weekly checks. But on the matter of these extrajudicial killings, the police have kept a tomblike silence.
If the President is setting an example of accountability—even apologizing for someone else’s failure of intelligence—shouldn’t the police force be more accountable, too?