CHR-Cordillera official withdraws from resolution for 'tokhang' vs leftists

Gaea Katreena Cabico - Philstar.com
CHR-Cordillera official withdraws from resolution for 'tokhang' vs leftists
Undated file photo shows police officers visiting homes.
The STAR / Boy Santos, File

MANILA, Philippines — The chief of the Commission of Human Rights office in the Cordillera region has withdrawn his signature from a resolution for a “tokhang-style” campaign against "left-leaning personalities" the government is linking to the armed communist movement.

At least 45 Cordillera officials, including CHR regional director Romel Daguimol, had signed a resolution of the Regional Law Enforcement Coordinating Committee to use the anti-drug Oplan Tokhang as part of a counterinsurgency campaign there.

In a statement Thursday, Daguimol, a lawyer, said he has “deemed it proper” to withdraw his signature from the controversial resolution.

“We continue to condemn terrorism, as well as the use of armed struggle to topple the government. But we continue to stand that activism is not a crime. Our people should be free to express legitimate dissent and grievances for the government to act on,” Daguimol said.

“With our concerns with ‘Oplan Tokhang’ and fears of red-tagging left unaddressed, supporting the said resolution runs inconsistent with the official position of the Commission on Human Rights,” he added.

He added it is best that the commission, as an independent national human rights institution, maintains its observer status.

‘Bloody’ Tokhang

It is unclear how ‘Oplan Tokhang’ will be used to “convince left-leaning personalities to return to the folds of the government and dissuade them from further supporting the Marxist-Maoist inspired rebellion and its known front organizations.”

In the first place, being "left-leaning" is not a crime.

“Tokhang”—or “knock and plead” —operations were launched in 2016 as the government began its “war on drugs.” As originally planned, cops would do house-to-house campaign to convince suspected drug pushers and users to surrender. 

But the strategy is being blamed for the deaths of “drug personalities” either in law enforcement operations or at the hands of unknown killers.

Rights group Karapatan said employing this strategy against “left-leaning” personalities is a “sanctioned incitement of extrajudicial killings.”

“Tokhang operations were not conducted through some innocuous ‘visiting/knocking’ on residences and ‘pleas’ or some dissuasive acts. These operations have been bloody, and this is the reason why there is a complaint at the International Criminal Court on crimes against humanity against [President Rodrigo] Duterte,” it said.

In a report issued last December, the court’s chief prosecutor said there was a “reasonable basis to believe that crimes against humanity of murder, torture and the infliction of serious physical injury and mental harm” had taken place in the government’s anti-drug campaign.

“This resolution is a direct violation of people’s right to due process, to freedom of association, against illegal search and yes, the right to life,” Karapatan added.

Karapatan has tallied 328 cases of extrajudicial killings of activists and rights workers between July 2016 and August 2020.

Reject the plan

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines meanwhile called on Cordillera officials to drop the “ill-conceived” plan.

“Not only does it violate basic civil rights by arbitrarily judging people sans due process, it also poses a real danger to life and limb given the trail of bodies ‘Tokhang’ has left in the drug war,” NUJP said.

“By what stretch of imagination do law enforcers presume to target perfectly legal personalities, left-leaning though they be, from government, media and other entities?” it added.

The resolution will be elevated to the Regional Peace and Order Council for its concurrence and adoption.




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