The 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.