AS THE Philippine National Police (PNP) take part again in President Rodrigo Duterte’s war against illegal drugs, Director General Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa recalls the pivotal incidents that shaped 2017 for the organization.

The abduction and killing of Korean businessman Jee Ick-joo and the killings of teenagers Kian Loyd delos Santos and Carl Angelo Arnaiz both prompted the President to suspend the PNP’s lead role in the drug war.

In these cases, policemen were implicated. Criminal complaints have been filed against the policemen involved and, in the case of the teenagers’ killings, the entire Caloocan police force was relieved.

Jee Ick-joo Jee and his household help, Marisa Morquicho, were taken from his residence in Angeles City, Pampanga by armed men who introduced themselves as members of then Anti-Illegal Drugs Group (AIDG) on October 18, 2016.

Morquicho said the armed men said the Korean businessman was being arrested for involvement in illegal drugs.

Jee was later found dead inside a vehicle parked within Camp Crame, the PNP headquarters in Metro Manila, while Morquicho was freed.

Senior Police Officer 4 Roy Villegas, who admitted to having taken part in the operation after he was made to believe that it was a legitimate anti-drugs operations, said Jee was strangled to death by SPO3 Ricky Sta. Isabel.

Sta. Isabel had denied the allegations and said it was his superior, Senior Superintendent Raphael Dumlao who killed Jee and was the brains of the crime. Dumlao, for his part, said there were other “big personalities” involved.

Dumlao, Sta. Isabel and Villegas were detained as investigation on the incident is ongoing.

The case prompted Duterte to suspend the police from the drug war and direct its leadership to undertake internal cleansing. After about a month, however, the President asked the police to get involved in the campaign again.

The President stripped the police of its lead role in the campaign for the second time after teenagers Kian delos Santos and Carl Arnaiz were killed by Caloocan policemen.

The boys were shot dead two days apart in August 2017 while they were on their knees and begging for their lives.

Delos Santos, 17, was killed on August 16 in Barangay 160 in Caloocan City during a purported anti-drugs operation.

Based on the incident report, the three policemen who took part in the operation said there was a shootout before they chanced upon Delos Santos who tried to shoot at them, prompting them to shoot back and kill him.

But a CCTV (closed-circuit television) camera footage, Delos Santos was seen being dragged by two policemen.

A witness said the boy was begging for the police to stop, saying he still had to attend classes the next day.

Forensic analysts later said the boy was kneeling when he was shot dead.

The case sparked protests nationwide against alleged extrajudicial killings committed by law enforcers under the government's bloody war on drugs.

Two days later, on August 18, Arnaiz was killed allegedly after he tried to engage policemen in a firefight.

Policemen said they were responding to a robbery alarm raised by taxi driver Tomas Bagcal.

Bagcal, who later surfaced, said there was no shootout and that he brought Arnaiz alive to the police station.

He said the cops had intentionally killed Arnaiz along C-3 road. A witness corroborated his claim. Arnaiz was 19.

His companion at the time, 14-year-old Reynaldo "Kulot" de Guzman, was found dead with multiple stab wounds and his head wrapped with packaging tape in Nueva Ecija.

Authorities later claimed that the body did not belong to De Guzman, but the boy's parents were convinced that it was their son and buried his remains in September.

Following these incidents, the PNP was stripped of its lead role in the drug war.

Duterte, in an October 10 order, named the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) as the lead agency in the implementation of the campaign against illegal drugs.

After almost two months, the President issued a memorandum allowing the PNP to actively participate again in anti-drugs operations.

Although the President has signified his trust in the PNP by allowing the organization to conduct anti-drugs operations again, the killings have cast a cloud of suspicion over all police operations.

To restore trust in the organization, the police have launched an internal cleansing drive on the President’s instructions and agreed to use body cameras during anti-drugs operations.

Dela Rosa also said he is making sure that only the “most clean” and untainted police officers will be authorized to conduct anti-illegal drugs operations.

He said the PNP-Counter Intelligence Task Force (CITF) is on its toes to clean their ranks of police scalawags.

The CITF earlier said they have arrested over 40 police officers for alleged involvement in illegal activities, such as extortion, gambling and illegal drugs.

Some 1,122 others are still being investigated based on complaints from civilians.

Dela Rosa said the use of body cameras during operations would promote transparency and dispel suspicions of irregularities.

“’Yung Caloocan experience alone is a lot of lessons to be learned so in order to correct this and to prevent this from happening in the future, I am requesting all local government units to procure body cameras,” Dela Rosa said.

“I-issue ito sa lahat ng mga (These should be issued to all) anti-drug units para we will not allow them operating without the cameras para transparent tayo, siguruhin natin na recorded lahat ‘yung kanilang operations (let’s make sure that all operations are recorded),” he added.

The first LGU to respond to Dela Rosa’s appeal was the Pasig City government. (SunStar Philippines)