PNP chief: 46 killed in 'war on drugs' operations under Marcos

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
PNP chief: 46 killed in 'war on drugs' operations under Marcos
FILE - An alleged drug dealer is handcuffed after a drug buy bust operation conducted by policemen where they caught this 18 year old boy selling marijuana in Manila on May 12, 2018. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs has left nearly 4,000 drug suspects dead and seen human rights groups claim he was responsible for a crime against humanity. The anti-drugs campaign enjoys popular support while the fiery-tongued Duterte has rejected any criticism of his human rights record.
AFP / Noel Celis

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine National Police said Monday that close to 50 suspects have been killed in anti-drug operations five months into President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr.'s term.

The disclosure comes amid an announcement by the government that the "war on drugs" would focus more on preventing drug use and the rehabilitation of drug dependents. It also comes after Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri played down deaths in the anti-narcotics campaign as an old issue.

Police Gen. Rodolfo Azurin, PNP chief, said in a forum organized by the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines on Monday that 32 have died in PNP operations while 14 others were killed by agents of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency. 

The number of deaths acknowledged by the PNP is much lower than that monitored by Dahas PH, a running count of reported drug-related killings by the Third World Studies Center at the University of the Philippines, which documented 127 drug suspects killed between July 1 and November 7.

The PNP chief stressed that there had been changes in the anti-narcotics strategy even as the Duterte administration winded down.

 Police Gen. Dionardo Carlos, the last PNP chief of the Duterte administration,  had presented  'ADORE' or the Anti-Illegal Drugs Operation through Reinforcement & Education, which he tagged as a "multi-faceted reinforcement and education-based strategy" to fighting illegal narcotics.  

"[We saw that] there was a need to review all the policies that were made, if they're still relevant today...It's more about doing a more responsive approach than what it used to be," Azurin told FOCAP and other media on Monday afternoon. 

"The PNP wanted to minimize as much as possible these killings...We need to accept that some members in the community, they don't have that much trust in the PNP [but] we must consider the 'war on drugs' as a war for every Filipino."

PNP chief: Minimize use of force in apprehending drug suspects

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has said he will continue the "war on drugs" of the Duterte administration but with a change in focus to bigger fish in the drug trade, while pushing for the rehabilitation of small-time drug users.

Azurin repeated this Monday, saying: "My policy that I emphasized to every police officer is that we will not endanger their lives. We minimize the use of force in arresting drug suspects."

While the tone has shifted, the supposed pivot to a health-centered approach has yet to be reflected on the ground. 

"But it's also in very specific [situations] that if they endanger your life, you will have to protect your security, and you will have to defend yourself," Azurin added. 

READ: The 'war on drugs' quietly continues 100 days into Marcos administration

No comment on Duterte 'drug war'

By the time Duterte stepped down from office, official data from the Philippine National Police and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency acknowledged that there were 6,252 "persons who died during anti-drug operations." Most if not all of these, police said, violently resisted arrest and forced authorities to act in self-defense. 

Azurin refused to comment on those killings Monday. "I was not directly involved in the operations of the war on drugs at the time, so it's not right for me to give an assessment."

But before his appointment as PNP chief, Azurin served as the commander of the Northern Luzon Police Area that covers the Ilocos Region, Cagayan Valley Region, Central Luzon Region, and the Cordillera Administrative Region. 

As director of the Police Regional Office 1 in 2020, Azurin reported arrests from manhunts and buy-bust operations related to illegal drugs to former PNP chief Debold Sinas, credited as a leading architect of Duterte's war on drugs.

In his career, Azurin also served as the commander of the Southern Luzon Police Area, and eventually, top positions in Camp Crame including director of the Directorate for Comptrollership and the Directorate for Information and Communication Technology Management.

"I think there was just a misconception on the policy on [Oplan] Tokhang. Generally, the main purpose was just to spread awareness in the community about the [effects of illegal drugs]," he said. "It shifted from Tokhang to ADORE because we believed we had already reached the awareness level [that we needed.]"

Azurin: 'Some' cases still being investigated

According to the first memorandum circular mentioning it, the first "barrel" of the campaign is Project Tokhang, which "involves the conduct of house-to-house [visits] to persuade suspected illegal drug personalities to stop their illegal drug activities."

Tokhang has since become its own operation plan in Oplan Tokhang, a play on the Bisaya words “knock” and “plead." Rights advocates and families of victims point to Tokhang-style visits as the precursors to extrajudicial killings. 

Asked for updated figures of cops convicted over extrajudicial drug-related killings, Azurin said: "I do not have the exact data, but definitely, there were some cases...it's not just the Kian issue."

The government has often pointed to the murder of Kian delos Santos, who was killed in a Caloocan police operation in 2017, and the conviction of police officers over his death, as proof that domestic remedies to "drug war" killings exist and work.

The Department of Justice has reviewed "drug war" operations that resulted in deaths and found irregularities and violations of protocol. Cases against police personnel over a handful of the reviewed cases are already in court.

Azurin also said that there were a total of 3,577 PNP personnel investigated between 2019 and 2021 for offenses like misdemeanors, not attending court appearances, or being absent. "Definitely, some were drug-related cases," he claimed.

None, however, have been charged before a court, though some cases are still ongoing, he said.


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