Human  rights in anti-drugs drive

Published May 3, 2019, 12:02 AM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza & Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat

e-cartoon-may-3-2019The  Ateneo  Human Rights Center came out  last week with a study on the government’s “Oplan Tokhang” against the widespread drug problem in the country.

“Tokhang” – from the Visayan words “toktok” (knock) and “hangyo” (plead) – is the Philippine National Police  (PNP)   program  to meet the nation’s drug problem. It  calls for the police to go to the houses  of drug  suspects, knock on their doors and seek to persuade them to stop their drug activities. The police, however, have a standing order to defend themselves if the suspects resist arrest.

In the course of the campaign, the  Ateneo  study said, several  rights of  the suspects were “made vulnerable,”  including the right to due process, the  right to presumption  of innocence, the right against self-incrimination,  the right to privacy, and  the right against  unreasonable  searches and warrantless  arrests.

PNP  chief  General  Oscar Albayalde  said  the PNP welcomes the release of the findings and  conclusions of  the  Ateneo  study. “We are willing to listen and engage all sectors, including the academe  that are concerned and willing to assist the Philippine National Police  in the fight against illegal drugs,” he said.

The  Ateneo  Center said it  recorded 7,029 killings from May 10, 2016, to December 31, 2018. The government  count as of March 27, 2019, was 5,281 deaths  of people who allegedly resisted arrest. The government has a separate list of 22,983 “deaths under inquiry.”

The  Supreme Court  has ordered the government to submit all documents pertaining to the anti-drugs drive. The first time  the  court  issued  the order was in December, 2018, but  the solicitor general said  then  that he could  not comply because  the information would affect national security. The court renewed its order last month and the government should soon be able to comply with the order.

“Oplan Tokhang” was launched  from  the very start  of  the Duterte administration  to solve  the problem  of  illegal drugs which has proved to be much bigger than earlier feared. We welcome  all  studies  and investigations, such as that of the  Ateneo  Human Rights Center,   and the PNP’s response  offering  to heed  the concerns raised by the  center.

 With the government complying with the order of the Supreme Court for the release of  documents relating to the killings, we should  be able to resolve all differences in the number of anti-drug deaths and, most important,  ensure  that all legal and constitutional rights are respected in the continuing anti-drugs campaign.