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EDITORIAL - Recalibration

For a robbery victim, R & E taxi driver Tomas Marleo Bagcal is one shy, reluctant complainant. His relatives, co-workers and employer have been looking for Bagcal since he vanished last Monday after claiming that he had been robbed at gunpoint by Carl Angelo Arnaiz.

The 19-year-old former student of the University of the Philippines was allegedly chased by Caloocan police who shot him dead after he purportedly fought back. Neighbors and Bagcal’s colleague Pete Lanuza said the driver was last seen at work and at his rented home last Monday. Caloocan police had presented two affidavits with discrepancies in the details that Bagcal allegedly submitted. The signatures in the documents also did not match Bagcal’s signatures on file in the taxi company.

With the killing of Arnaiz still unresolved, his companion when he was last seen in their neighborhood, Reynaldo de Guzman, was found dead with at least 26 stab wounds and his head wrapped in tape. The 14-year-old fifth grader was lying face down in a creek in Gapan, Nueva Ecija.

Yesterday, President Duterte expressed suspicion that certain groups could be out to “sabotage” his campaign against illegal drugs, by murdering minors to stoke public outrage. While this angle can be pursued, it also cannot be ruled out that anti-drug units are abusing their authority and wantonly taking lives to claim “accomplishments” in the war on drugs.

Left unchecked, such abuses can only undermine even the most well-intentioned campaign against the drug menace. The deaths of De Guzman, Arnaiz and Kian delos Santos, 17, indicate something seriously wrong with the way the war is being waged. If killing drug suspects is rewarded with cash, performance citations and even promotions while those who fail to deliver are penalized with reassignment to undesirable posts, the temptation to abuse authority becomes strong.

When the principal police unit tasked to carry out the war on drugs was implicated in the gruesome execution of a South Korean executive right inside Camp Crame, Oplan Tokhang was recalibrated and transformed into Oplan Double Barrel. This time, officials say the campaign is up for another reassessment, even as the House of Representatives has “reloaded” the war on drugs with funding of P900 million.

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No one will dispute the seriousness of the drug menace and the need for a strong approach. This mandate, however, must never be construed as a blanket authority to kill.

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