As the country’s anti-illegal drugs czarina, Vice President Leni Robredo has the power to scrap operation plan “Tokhang” (knock and convince) — the flagship program of the Philippine National Police (PNP) designed to defeat the drug menace.
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel and spokesman Salvador Panelo stressed the Vice President can order to stop Oplan “Tokhang” if she wants to.
“If that will be effective in so far as the drug war is concerned. She has been given the authority,” Panelo said.
At the same time, he reiterated Malacañang’s support to Robredo as co-chairperson of the Inter-Agency Committee on Illegal Drugs (ICAD).
“We will give her all that she needs. As I’ve said, she should be given a wide latitude and she should pursue her own scheme of things in pursuing the drug war initiated by this administration,” he said.
The PNP, under the leadership of now Sen. Ronald de la Rosa, launched Oplan “Tokhang” — coined from two Visayan words “toktok,” which means “knock,” and “hanyo,” to plead or convince, upon former Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte’s presidential victory in 2016.
It was designed to convince drug peddlers and dependents to drop their illegal activities.
Since July 2016 to 31 July 2019, the government’s campaign resulted in the killing of a total of 5,526 drug offenders during 163,767 police operations.
The figure was far from the 27,000 deaths claimed by critics of Mr. Duterte.
A total of 256,536 drug offenders were also arrested while 1,284,492 drug pushers and users voluntarily surrendered.
Panelo noted that after an initial meeting with ICAD, Robredo is somehow seeing the positive side of the campaign.
“I heard her say that ‘tokhang is not that bad… it’s not that serious deadly’ when she was asked (about it),” he said.
Panelo added he was told by Mr. Duterte that he will invite Robredo to a Cabinet meeting himself.
“The President said when I talked to him that ‘I’ll be the one to invite her,’” he explained.
PNP officer-in-charge PLt. Gen. Archie Gamboa, meanwhile, said Robredo would be more effective as the country’s anti-illegal drugs czarina if she focuses on the advocacy and rehabilitation programs, instead of joining actual operations.
The police officer cited Robredo’s lack of experience or exposure to law enforcement and operations.
“Maybe the VP (Vice President) can concentrate on advocacy and rehabilitation. We will make it easy for her and more understandable on the part of law enforcement,” Gamboa said at Camp Crame.
“I know it’s practically a new thing to her because she has no previous exposure, and of course, there are suggestions also for her not to join an anti-illegal drugs operation because it would risk her life,” he continued.
Gamboa further said Robredo should center her efforts on the rehabilitation of drug surrenderers as they are actually larger in number than those who have been arrested or killed in actual police operations.
“As a matter of fact, that’s her concentration. She said all our surrenderers, those who admitted themselves to rehabilitation centers, those arrested, how many really went back to the community to become ordinary and productive citizens?” he stated.
The PNP is one of the 20 member-agencies under the ICAD and it belongs to the enforcement cluster. Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) director general Undersecretary Aaron Aquino is the chairman of ICAD.
The other clusters under ICAD are rehabilitation and reintegration, justice and advocacy.
Gamboa, however, expressed openness to modifying the PNP’s policies in carrying out the government’s campaign against narcotics with Robredo at the helm.
Sen. Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go reiterated his full support to Robredo as ICAD co-chairperson, but maintained that the lives of law enforcers and even innocent civilians are put on the line during operations against drug addicts.
“I don’t want to see another policeman that is lying dead because they are afraid to kill a criminal. How can you say no more killings when the police are trading gunfire? We are all aware that these drug addicts’ minds are not in the right condition,” Go said in an interview.
Kristina Maralit,Hananeel Bordey
and Keith Calayag