Goodbye, tokhang

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan - The Philippine Star

Tokhang is out – that is, in the literal meaning of the play on the Visayan words tuktok, which is to knock on the door, and hangyo or to plead.

This is according to the new chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP), Gen. Dionardo Carlos, who says tokhang has taken on a negative connotation.

In the context of the anti-criminality campaign, tokhang is an anti-narcotics cop rapping on the door of a private residence. Once opened, the occupants are asked if there is anyone in the house with a drug habit. Or else they are told that the cops have received reports of a member of the household doing drugs.

As we have seen since the launch of Oplan Tokhang, ordinary folks are too scared to deny such an accusation (whether true or not), or to refuse to register as a drug personality, even if the registration is typically done in a public place such as the barangay multipurpose hall, in full view of the entire neighborhood.

The local drug dealer and substance abusers are typically known within the community. Some are harmless and largely keep to themselves, but others are troublemakers who can be dangerously violent and engage in crimes.

As numerous surveys indicated, Pinoys supported the elimination of such troublemakers in their neighborhood. Duterte won by a landslide on a platform of killing the troublemakers. Few tears were shed when his war targeted political families linked to drug trafficking.

The end justified Duterte’s means; people simply looked the other way… until even teenagers began ending up dead, their heads wrapped in packing tape, their wrists bound behind their backs and their ankles tied together. Video footage showed some of them being shot from behind, as they knelt on the ground.

The brutal campaign earned Duterte, his first police chief and tokhang enforcer Ronald dela Rosa and former justice chief Vitaliano Aguirre II complaints before the International Criminal Court. The country’s withdrawal from the Rome Statute did not stop the ICC from proceeding with its probe of possible crimes against humanity in the Philippines’ war on drugs.

Sen. Bato dela Rosa seems unperturbed by the ICC case. He previously said his only regret in launching tokhang was that it should have been preceded by a thorough cleansing of the police force.

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The government has succeeded in getting the ICC to suspend the probe, with the argument that the Department of Justice is currently reviewing an initial 52 cases of possible summary executions by police of drug suspects who supposedly resisted arrest or nanlaban.

If the ICC believes that the review is nothing but a farce to prevent it from stepping in, the probe will continue.

But if the government plays its cards right and shows that the review is genuine proof that the criminal justice system and institutions are working in the Philippines, the ICC cannot assert its jurisdiction.

Cops behind the nanlaban summary executions – at least in those 52 cases out of over 6,000 – will have to be prepared for criminal indictment and the possibility of rotting in prison for life.

By this time, it must have already dawned on anti-narcotics cops that there is no truth to the promise that someone has their back and would be willing to go to prison on their behalf. The person who gave the promise is now on survival mode, folks, and the police naifs who believed the promise will be fed to the wolves.

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So I can believe the new PNP chief when he says tokhang is over even as the anti-drug campaign continues, as is the duty of any police organization.

What exactly does ending tokhang mean? General Carlos told us on One News’ “The Chiefs” Monday night that there will be no more knocking on doors to plead with suspected drug personalities to surrender or register.

“We will not do that. We will assign police officers in barangays who will coordinate with local officials (and) take care of those who surrendered to the program and make them productive members of society,” Carlos told us.

Tokhang “has changed meaning,” he said. “Its intention was good, but its meaning became somewhat negative. So I am not saying that the program of tokhang is not good. It is good. However, the use of the word has changed… So what we’ll do is take care of our barangays and surrenderees.”

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Carlos, who retires from the PNP when he reaches 56 on the eve of election day 2022, has more complicated challenges in waging the anti-drug campaign.

The most pressing at this time is his follow-through on President Duterte’s claim that a wealthy presidential aspirant with a “weak” character and prominent father is a habitual cocaine user.

Unlike lesser mortals on Duterte’s narco s*** list, the aspirant has not been publicly named, much less arrested or subjected to tokhang. Carlos swears his boss the President has not even whispered to him the identity of the supposed cokehead.

Substance abuse is a health problem that is no ground for disqualification from seeking an elective post. But it can become a legal problem if the abuser gets caught in possession of cocaine or the poor man’s version, shabu.

What happens if the background check currently being conducted by the PNP shows no cocaine user among the presidential aspirants? Will that make Duterte a liar engaged in an election demolition job?

The outcome of this issue will affect the credibility of the drug war under Carlos. Still, anything will probably be better for him than an indictment before the ICC.

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