Tell it to SunStar: Tokhang shouldn’t have returned

WITH the new supposedly law-upholding and rights-respecting guidelines for a relaunch, the glaring truth that the bloody and brutal Tokhang Operations under the Duterte administration exceeded the rule of law and violated basic human rights is confirmed. This acknowledgement by police and government authorities themselves is easily matched by the now blossomed reference of being “TOKHANGED” under Duterte’s so-called “War on Drugs.”

Seeking to sanitize the image of this excessively tarnished police method is likely intended to resume the PNP’s ability to rule by fear in poor communities, while neutralizing public criticism.

First and foremost, Duterte’s so-called “War on Drugs” has falsely equated corrective action with brutal blood-shed. Under the complex causes of illegal-drug use and trade in the Philippines, the Duterte administration should address poverty and inadequate employment which foster and create conditions that propel people toward illegal drug activities. If this were the administration’s focus, a significant portion of small-time sellers or users would rectify their conduct.

The job of the police is to uphold the law, by issuing onsite warnings, gathering evidence, making arrests of people caught in the act of a crime, and filing cases—social and health workers are the correct professions to facilitate access to government treatment services for drug-dependence, while local community leaders and barangay officials can assist with counsel and family support. These may all be done in compliance and coordination with the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency.

The SNAFU that is Operation Tokhang lies in the misuse of police. PNP officers don’t present themselves as service providers through “KNOCK and PLEAD.” They have always been threatening people with consequences, if they don’t surrender. As such, they portray themselves with undue power to exercise discretion on the filing of any case and often over-project the evidence that they really have, leaving little recourse for any suspect to clear their name.

These latest Operation Tokhang guidelines exist precisely because of excesses and violations of human rights and the rule of law in months past. The new guidelines will likely intensify cover-up of misdeeds as PNP commanding officers are now to be removed from their positions and subjected to reassignment (referred to as “sacked”) for the actions of those under them. These guidelines seek to whitewash what had been happening with a fresh coat of legitimacy and further normalize on police bullying and threats. If police have evidence against a suspect, they should follow the rule of law and let the courts sort it out.

Operation Tokhang has buried many Filipinos already. In this same vein, a positive reputation for the PNP’s Operation Tokhang will not easily be restored; thus, Operation Tokhang should not be resurrected, as it still drips with the blood of the poor ones, the thousands extra-judicially killed under Duterte’s “War on Drugs.” --Fr. Gilbert Billena, O.Carm, spokesperson, Rise Up for Rights and for Life
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