They’re on a “tokhang,” or “knock and plead” operation — a tactic adopted from new President Rodrigo Duterte
‘s hometown of Davao City, where he was mayor for more than two decades.
The United Nations last week condemnedDuterte’s violent crackdown on drugs
since he assumed office in late June, urging the Philippines government “to protect all persons from targeted killings and extrajudicial executions.”
“Knock and plead” involves going to the homes of those suspected of using shabu — the local name for methamphetamine — and, with practiced, almost comically overwrought politeness, inviting those inside to accompany the police to the barangay hall.
“You’re on our list,” Eleazar says to one, who seems disoriented by the visible show of force at his front door.
“When was the last time you used?”
It’s been a long time, the dazed occupant says. He’s wearing shorts and holds a thin, grubby tank top as he blinks in the light.
“We’d like to invite you to the barangay for some clarifications,” Eleazar says. The man meekly complies. The armed entourage moves on to the next address on the list.
Climate of fear
The new administration enjoys high public approval ratings for its crackdown on drug crime, but not all are convinced.
“It doesn’t sound like proper police procedure to me,” says rights advocate Jose Manue Diokno, chairman of the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG). “These are in our view warrantless arrests.”
There’s “a new (climate) of fear in the Philippines,” where suspects who don’t have legal representation are made to sign documents incriminating themselves, Diokno says. The process, he says, is “a violation of our bill of rights.”
There’s no doubt it’s a dangerous time to be involved in drugs in the Philippines. Since taking office in June, Duterte’s time in office has seen over 1,900 deaths — at least 756 killings of suspected drug offenders by police, and at least another 1160 unsolved killings, many drug related and many by suspected vigilantes, according to senate testimony by PNP police chief Dela Rosa.
“Law officials are acting as judge, jury and executioner,” Diokno says.
With voluntary surrenders reaching well over half a million in just a few weeks, it’s clear that Duterte and Dela Rosa consider the program a success. But the simple fact is, Eleazar laughs, those turning themselves in in Barangay Libis this rainy night are simply “scared to die.”