Presidential aspirant and Senator Ronald “Bato” de la Rosa on Monday vowed to continue the controversial war on drugs of President Rodrigo Duterte if elected into the country’s highest office in the 2022 May Elections.
A former Philippine National Police (PNP) chief and known Duterte ally, De la Rosa was the chief implementer of the administration’s “Oplan Tokhang” in 2016.
“Of course, we will continue that. But we will not fall deaf to the suggestions on how to make it work very well,” the Senator told reporters when asked if there will be a part two of the “Oplan Tokhang” under his government.
“We will adjust to the changing times,” he said. “Implementing the same program doesn’t mean that the same things will happen. There will be changes because we listen to the people.”
“Oplan Tokhang” which translates to “knock and plead” is a campaign the Senator initiated during his stint as a police chief in Davao City. He implemented it on a national scale under Duterte’s anti-illegal drug campaign.
De la Rosa, however, clarified that it is different from extrajudicial killings (EJK) and assured that there will be reforms in its implementation. Part of the changes, he said, is the strict usage of body cameras during operations to ensure the safety of police personnel.
“Tokhang is different from EJK. It means that police will knock at the homes of drug addicts and persuade them to stop. Most people appropriate EJK (with Tokhang). That’s wrong,” he said.
“Oplan Tokhang, for me, is a very noble campaign. But what should be changed is the use of body cameras to avoid abuses and provide protection to our operating personnel from harassment,” he added.
The bloody drug war has earned criticisms from local and international human rights organizations after it resulted in the killings of thousands of individuals in the country including 17-year-old student Kian de los Santos, who was murdered by three members of the Caloocan City police.
Statistics from PNP said that at least 6,000 died from the operations but the International Criminal Court (ICC) estimated the tally of the victims at around 30,000.
In September, a pre-trial chamber of ICC gave the Office of the then-Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda the green light to open an official investigation on the controversial anti-illegal drug campaign.
The 41-page decision likewise mentioned De la Rosa due to his public statements that allegedly incited or encouraged the killing of the drug suspects.
President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly brushed off the probe and said that the international court has no jurisdiction over the Philippines after it withdrew from the Rome Statute on 17 March 2019.
The ICC, however, said it has authority to investigate the alleged crimes against humanity conducted in the country while it was still a state party ranging from 1 November 2011 to 16 March 2019.
The Supreme Court agreed with the court and obliged Malacañang to coordinate with the investigation.
De la Rosa, for his part, previously said that he would rather be “tried, convicted and even hanged” before a local court instead of facing ICC.
The Senator is among the presidential candidates in the 2022 National Elections. His campaign will be carried by President Duterte’s faction inside the ruling party PDP Laban.
While he said he is serious about joining the presidential race, the lawmaker earlier said that he is willing to withdraw his candidacy for the probable bid of Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio.