PNP: Anti-drug operations 'will be unrelenting as ever' amid COVID-19 crisis

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
PNP: Anti-drug operations 'will be unrelenting as ever' amid COVID-19 crisis
This undated photo shows Manila cops manning a checkpoint in Manila during the Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine.
The STAR / Miguel de Guzman

MANILA, Philippines — Anti-narcotics operations will continue even as the country deals with the COVID-19 pandemic and the police are in the lead of enforcing quarantine, the chief of the Philippine National Police said Tuesday. 

Joint Task Force COVID Shield, the police and military body in charge of making sure that health measures like a ban on non-essential travel and curfews, previously said that more police officers would be deployed as most of the country shifts to a General Community Quarantine.

"Even with the ongoing health crisis, police anti-illegal drugs operations will continue without let-up and will be unrelenting as ever," Police Gen. Archie Gamboa said.

A VERA Files report that Philstar.com carried on Sunday tallied 53 drug-related killings since Metro Manila was put under an Enhanced Community Quarantine on March 15. The ECQ was expanded to cover Luzon and local governments in Visayas and Mindanao announced their own quarantine restrictions.

VERA Files noted that not all of the killings were the result of police operations.

"Of the 53 drug-related killings we have recorded, 42 were committed by state agents, often those from the police force. But there were five instances when soldiers from the Armed Forces of the Philippines or officials from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency were with the police during operations. Buy-bust operations account for 39 deaths. Three of the suspects were killed in unplanned operations," the report reads.

Tokhang suspended 

Earlier in mid-March, though, Police Maj. Gen. Debold Sinas, Metro Manila police chief, said that Oplan Tokhang would be suspended amid the quarantine of Manila. 

“Oplan Tokhang is out for now. We [are] momentarily silent on that because the focus right now is on quarantine,” Sinas said in Filipino at a press conference.

"We'll let them be for now. If you're inside, you won't get any supply. Supposedly they'll be in their houses. We don't want to contribute to the outrage of the people first," he added. 

READ: Oplan Tokhang suspended due to COVID-19 quarantine

Oplan Tokhang, which directly translates to "plan to knock and appeal" is the national police's strategy of visiting suspected "drug personalities" in their homes to ask them to surrender.

The term has since been associated to the thousands of killings linked to the anti-drug campaign. The government has repeatedly said that extrajudicial killings are not state policy and that those killed in law enforcement operations gave authorities no choice but to shoot them dead.

A human rights situationer published by the Philippine Human Rights Information Center in 2019 referred to the country as "the killing state" with a tendency to "test the extremes of violence and impunity."

Gamboa made the statement on what would have been the birthday of the young boy murdered in the course of a law enforcement operation and who authorities initially accused of being a "runner" for drug syndicates.

In November 2018, Caloocan Regional Trial Court Branch 125  sentenced PO3 Arnel Oares, PO1 Jeremias Pereda and PO1 Jerwin Cruz to reclusion perpetua or up to 40 years in prison with no possibility of parole.

Closed-circuit television camera footage used as evidence in the trial showed that Delos Santos was dragged by the police officers towards Tullahan River, where he was later found dead in a kneeling position.

The court said there was no chance for Delos Santos, a minor, to defend himself.

"He was in a sitting position, covering his head with his hands and pleading, ‘sir, huwag po (sir, please don't),’" the decision read.

Delos Santos would have turned 20 on Tuesday.

THE WAR ON DRUGS: In-depth reports and analyses on the government's bloody anti-narcotics campaign




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