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Tokhang may be revived

President Rodrigo Duterte said yesterday it would be up to the Philippine National Police to decide whether to resume Tokhang now or wait a few months amid reports indicating a rise in the sale of illegal drugs on the streets. The STAR/Edd Gumban, File photo

MANILA, Philippines - Less than a month after banning the police from anti-drug operations and suspending Oplan Tokhang, President Duterte is open to the resumption of his brutal campaign against the drug menace.

Duterte said yesterday it would be up to the Philippine National Police (PNP) to decide whether to resume Tokhang now or wait a few months amid reports indicating a rise in the sale of illegal drugs on the streets.

If the organization decides to resume it sooner, Duterte stressed that the PNP should “assign trustworthy men.”

The resurgence in the sale of illegal drugs on the streets made police chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa think of asking the President to order the resumption of Tokhang – the PNP operation plan against illegal drugs – that has already claimed thousands of lives.

Dela Rosa reported a growing clamor from local government units to resume the war on drugs after the illicit trade was said to again be on the rise after the government suspended it due to the involvement of high ranking police officers in the kidnap-for-ransom and killing of South Korean businessman Jee Ick-joo last year.

“The resumption of that war would depend on President Duterte. If he sees that we (PNP) are done with our internal cleansing, that we have cleansed our ranks and we are ready to take on the war against drugs, then maybe and hopefully (he will revive Tokhang),” Dela Rosa said during a speech in Zamboanga City’s 80th Charter Day celebration Sunday.

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But Duterte would rather leave the decision to the PNP, adding that if it decides to resume the campaign sooner, then it should be assigned to “trustworthy men.”

“I don’t know. I would leave it to the PNP to decide. What do they need? What do they have to do to succeed? I do not meddle in the mechanisms there. What is important for me is finish it, do it, I do not inquire into how, where, what,” the President told reporters in Malacañang yesterday.

“I said give me the men that I can trust to handle the campaign,” he added as he claimed that drug-related activities have risen by 20 percent since Tokhang was suspended. “I told you it’s a virulent thing. Hindi matapos-tapos ‘yan (It is never ending).”

Duterte said Dela Rosa should “look for young men in the PNP who are imbued with patriotic fervor to serve their country.”

“The standard is you must be honest and efficient, you must not be corrupt so that everything will be in order,” he stressed.

Earlier, he had Tokhang suspended after some PNP scalawags were found to have used it as a weapon to extort money from people. The campaign was criticized by the United Nations and several human rights groups because of the high number of people killed.

More than half of about 8,000 lives lost due to Tokhang were done by unidentified assailants, sometimes referred to as vigilantes. Government authorities though attributed these killings to drug syndicates, saying the warlords were purging their own ranks.

In jest, Duterte issued a threat to drug offenders who refuse to stop their activities.

“Kung ayaw nilang huminto mag-suicide ako. Takutin ko na lang sila. Mag-bomber na lang ako, suicide bomber (If they don’t stop, I’ll commit suicide. I’ll just scare them. I’ll just be a bomber, a suicide bomber),” he said, confirming that the drug war was in the agenda of yesterday’s joint military and police command conference in Malacañang.

Dela Rosa recounted his talks with and clamors of governors, mayors and barangay leaders to resume the war on drugs.

“They want to resume the war on drugs because now the pushers and users are resurging and even bragging that police authorities could not touch them. They are back in business,” he said.

The PNP chief said he has not set any date yet pending Duterte’s decision.

“However, we are ready (to resume it) anytime,” he added.

The current anti-illegal drugs campaign is spearheaded by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, which only has about 1,800 people on its roll. The PNP has 160,000 in its force.   – With Roel Pareño

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