Police knock, suspect pleads, and then a gunshot or two is fired—a sequence of events that has become all too familiar. In this day and age, the police seem to be painted in a negative light on news headlines—both internationally and locally—far more often than they previously were. Extra-judicial killings and racist acts have served as the brush that paints red over the country’s security force. Although there is a negative social stigma surrounding the police, all perspectives must be heard. While there are corrupt policemen who violate human rights, that isn’t to say there aren’t good ones who are caught in this media based cross fire.
“Oplan Tokhang” (knock and plead) has been the operation of our police, knocking on a drug user/pusher’s door, asking them to surrender, and delineating the consequence of drug use to the suspect. Ideally, that would be a standard and safe way to wriggle out the real perpetrators of drug use. However in poorer districts, this is usually not the case. Knocks are replaced by banging and barging, and the situation may or may not end unfortunately.
From a veteran’s perspective
Officer Fernando* recently retired from the police force after serving as corporal for a grueling 10 years. Stationed in Caloocan City, he had his fair share of experiences with the war on drugs campaign. “The most difficult thing that we had to go through every day was how intense the anti-illegal drugs campaign was getting,” Fernando remarked. As of late, the police were bearing the brunt of criticisms and protests due to violent and unfair treatment for the victims of the anti-drug campaign. The numerous unjust killings and unwarranted violence has led many Filipinos to question the effectiveness of the campaign.
“Tokhang, in my opinion, is the most effective way to eradicate drugs,” claims Fernando. Ever since President Duterte started his campaign, a number of drug pushes have freely surrendered themselves to the police, fearful for their lives. The campaign has left a mark on our youth; by night, the streets are empty and no one dares to step outside, lest they risk their name ending up on the headline the next day, profiled as another victim of the drug war.
While scaring the masses might seem like an effective way of keeping drugs out of the picture, it comes at the expense of the lives of many victims to police’s extra-judicial killings. The body count continues to pile up as the months pass, and it shows no signs of stopping. Countless families have been affected by the loss of their loved ones, whose lives have been taken away too soon. These heinous acts have been attributed to the unjust and cruel nature of the unremorseful monsters most people see as the police.
“We don’t kill just because we want to. So far, our operations have had a big impact on the city. A lot of people have already surrendered themselves to us,” Fernando says, with genuine belief that Duterte’s campaign against drugs will really aid in eradicating drugs in the country. They do not kill for the sake of killing; he, however, has the belief that necessary measures should be taken in order to ensure the survivability and sustainability of the country in the long run.
Despite the police force’s intention being guided by a positive purpose, there are many who would argue that the execution of their methods is still done at the expense of human life. Alternatives to the extra-judicial killings have been proposed previously with the limitation of the death toll in the war on drugs in mind.
“I think one of the reasons why the situation is getting worse is because of the lack of government participation in the matter,” Fernando states. “There is a lack of rehabilitation centers, so in effect, drug users have no way of getting help for themselves.” For him, the campaign speaks for a greater sense of public peace, ergo broadcasting the effect of illegal drugs.
War never changes
During Duterte’s administration, the bloody campaign against drugs only continues to worsen, with no signs of an end anytime soon. The police have been at the forefront of this war for the past year; they had to endure the brunt of hatred amidst the chaos and tension of the President’s war on drugs. Although they see it as an investment to a better, drug-free Philippines, they continue to take lives of innocent Filipinos. The idea that another alternative can be sought out in order to ensure the eradication of drugs in our country, one that can be done without the cost of human life, remains prevalent in the midst of the chaos and violence. As of now, we can only stand firm, and continue to fight for justice for the lives that were tragically lost in this seemingly unending war.
*Names have been changed to protect identities.