LET'S give the official story the benefit of the doubt. The suspension of police operations against illegal drugs does give Director General Ronald dela Rosa the opportunity to go after scalawags in his ranks.
But he and President Rodrigo Duterte will need to do more, for the pause to be meaningful. They can, if they are sincere about cleansing the Philippine National Police (PNP), also use the pause from operations to look more closely at their campaign’s methods and accountability mechanisms.
While the PNP takes its hands off the campaign, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) will play the lead role. This agency reports directly to the Office of the President, which frees it from the bureaucratic thicket that other law enforcement agencies—being also accountable to the interior or justice departments—have to hack through.
But PDEA has faced its share of questions about the accuracy of its operations and the lifestyles of some of its personnel.
One of the latest cases in Cebu City involves the call center agent Niño Taboada, who died in his home in Barangay Duljo Fatima last Jan. 19. PDEA agents said he had tried firing at them first. Taboada’s family insists the PDEA killed the wrong man, and have asked the Commission on Human Rights to investigate.
Unless a clear mechanism for accountability in the anti-drug campaign is in place, PDEA will likely face the same questions the PNP now grapples with. How are PDEA’s operations reviewed? How can citizens and human rights advocates help ensure that its agents operate within legal bounds?
Until the kidnapping and murder of Jee Ick-Joo inside Camp Crame tainted the PNP, it virtually glossed over questions about the thousands who have died in Duterte’s war on drugs.
As of Jan. 19, at least 3,603 persons were killed around the country in what the police have classified as “deaths under investigation.” At least 326 of these persons were in Central Visayas. These numbers are larger than the 2,503 killed in police operations nationwide, of whom 153 were gunned down by the police in Region 7. How many of these police operations were truly legitimate? Who, apart from the police themselves, went over the details?
The campaign against illegal drugs cannot be left to law enforcement alone. This is something the United Nations, with its six decades of experience in the international anti-drug campaign, has repeatedly stressed. Yet this is what happened in this country in the last seven months.