Briones: ‘Tokhang Reboot’

IF at first you don’t succeed, try again.

It looks like President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration has taken this axiom to heart in trying to stop the drug menace on a nationwide scale.

Oplan Tokhang, when it was first implemented in Davao City, worked wonders.

Yes, there were casualties. Yes, there were talks of extrajudicial killings. Some sectors even called then mayor Duterte’s attention to the mounting body count, but the critics were a minority. And most of them didn’t live in Davao.

As for the city’s residents, the majority kept mum and looked the other way as known and suspected drug personalities disappeared into the night never to be seen again.

This seeming complicity was a result of years of silent suffering.

Criminal elements had taken over the streets. And with that, illegal drugs proliferated to take a toll on many families.

I guess the people had reached their tipping point.

So when Duterte came along and offered them a social contract of some sort, they quickly signed on the dotted line.

They were not disappointed because Duterte delivered on his promise.

Drug addiction did go down, and the selling of illegal drugs went underground. The streets were once again safe.

But that was Davao. And I hate to spell it out to the city’s residents, Davao is not the Philippines.

When the Duterte administration tried the same approach in the rest of the archipelago, I think the public genuinely gave Oplan Tokhang a chance to work.

Suspected drug personalities did die. Some in legitimate operations. And some in dubious ways.

And for the most part, people did look the other way. Even when the supply didn’t seem to abate. Even when it seemed that those arrested were all small-time operators.

The honeymoon was short-lived.

In this age when there are security cameras on almost every neighborhood corner, when everybody seems to have smartphones that have cameras and videos, it wasn’t long before police abuses were exposed, and people started to question their involvement in the illegal drugs trade.

It all came to a head when a 17-year-old kid was killed during an anti-drug operation in Caloocan. The boy was shot in the back after he pleaded for his life.

Last October, police suspended all their anti-drug operations to focus on internal cleansing and, apparently, to come up with guidelines for the conduct of their anti-drug war.

Under the rebooted Oplan Tokhang, police can only operate on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. They must also be accompanied by barangay officials, among others.

And so the other day, police were back on the streets. But unlike before, their version of Tokhang is “much more peaceful.”
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