Duterte’s war: Breaking bad?

By Vino Lucero and Malou Mangahas
Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism

BANGKAY SA BANGKETA… kasi nga drug pusher ako.

This is the sad refrain in a sardonic poem that a young Filipina wrote and read in a video she posted last week on her Facebook page. It does not matter, she averred, that the so-called drug pushers falling by the dozens of late had not been read their rights or tried in court. Or even, that they had been killed by those who are supposed to protect them and enforce the law. Perhaps, she wrote, those who kill are drug pushers, too.

Indeed, a pall of death has cloaked the nation in mixed glee, grief, confusion, and anxiety in the first three weeks alone of the war on drugs of President Rodrigo R. Duterte and his deputy, Philippine National Police chief, Director General Ronald ‘Bato’ dela Rosa. They had promised, after all, to rid the nation of drugs in three to six months’ time.

But who will be killed next is not quite clear as yet. In the meantime, the question of why the poor and puny pushers are dying in high numbers compared to just a handful of their rich counterparts, the drug lords, and their supposed coddlers in the police has been either inadequately answered or ignored.

Dela Rosa, though, told PCIJ in a recent interview,”Malawakang kampanya na ito, malawakang kampanya na. Madami na matatamaan, tinatamaan nga ‘yung mga mayor na drug lord diyan, tinatamaan nga ‘yung mga pulitiko na involved, ‘yang mga high-ranking officials, tinatamaan na nga e, so lahat ito. Walang pili ito (This is already a broad campaign, a broad campaign. Many will be hurt, mayors who are drug lords are being hit, politicians who are involved, high-ranking officials. We do not choose.)”

He also indicated that the bloodletting is not yet about to stop. “Kung seryosohin mo ang campaign on drugs,” dela Rosa said, “this will be very, very bloody.”

By the data of the police — until now the singular source of information of the news media about the war on drugs — about 10 bodies have been showing up by the road and in the slums every day, or a total of 213 killed in Duterte’s first 21 days in office alone. The casualty toll includes 209 civilians and only four policemen that the police had tagged as alleged drug pushers.

During the same period, the PNP’s Public Information Office said 3,005 persons had been arrested, 62,218 houses had been visited, and 116,466 persons had “surrendered” to the police under “Oplan Tokhang,” the demand-side or grassroots war on drugs of the Duterte administration.

Tokhang runs parallel to the “supply-side” campaign against drug lords and financiers of the drug trade and together they constitute what dela Rosa calls the “big picture” that is “Oplan Double Barrel.”

Combatting drugs has always been a major police activity over the last seven years. Then and now, however, the PNP’s reports on the supposed “achievements” of the campaign have risen and fallen, across regions of the country.
War’s ups and downs

By official PNP reports, Duterte’s war on drugs has netted much bigger numbers of those killed and arrested in its initial rollout period.

By all indications, however, Duterte’s war has assumed a random, free-for-all, brook-no-limits in law and due process, a kill-at-will campaign against mostly small-time drug suspects.

Cookie Diokno of the Free Legal Assistance Group of human rights lawyers says the big difference in the war on drugs then and now is this: Duterte’s war has flipped the “burden of proof” principle in the statutes inside out. In other words, says Diokno, “you are now presumed guilty, until proven innocent.”

Compared with data on the PNP’s anti-drug campaign in the 78 months ending June 2016, Duterte’s three-week-old war has upped the numbers of alleged drug users and pushers killed and arrested multiple-fold.

The downside is Duterte’s war is unfolding with negligible documentation of the conduct of police operations and the death of suspects. In a majority of cases, the suspects were killed purportedly because they “resisted arrest” or tried to snatch the guns of and engaged arresting officers in a firefight.

In its investigation of complaints filed by the surviving kin of the victims, or on its own, the Commission on Human Rights has faced little cooperation from the police. CHR spokesperson Leah Armamento told PCIJ: “It’s so difficult to get police reports. They will not share it with us.”

“Normal ‘yun,” she then notes. “They will not cooperate with us siyempre naman kasi it might incriminate them.” As a result, Armamento says, CHR investigators have had to do their own investigation and get the testimonies of witnesses.

PNP protocols

Yet even worse, under Duterte, police operations against illegal drugs have been marked with apparent token compliance with — or even open defiance of — the rules and protocols enrolled in the 200-page Philippine National Police Handbook PNPM-Do-Ds-3-2-13 or Revised PNP Manual on Operational Procedures published in December 2013.

Under PNP’s Handbook, Rule 7 on the “Use of Non-Lethal Weapon” prescribes a calibration of force that should be designed only to immobilize and not kill suspects all at once. “When suspect is violent or threatening, and that less physical measures have been tried and deemed inappropriate, a more extreme, but non-deadly measure can be used such as baton/truncheon, pepper spray, stun gun, and other non-lethal weapon to bring the suspect under control, or effect an arrest,” the manual states.

Even when faced with an armed suspect, the PNP Handbook says the “Application of Necessary and Reasonable Force” should mean this: “During confrontation with an armed offender, only such necessary and reasonable force should be applied as would be sufficient to overcome the resistance put up by the offender; subdue the clear and imminent danger posed by him; or to justify the force/act under the principles of self-defense, defense of relative, or defense of stranger.”

The police, the Handbook says, should pay attention to certain factors to discern “the reasonableness of the force employed.” The Handbook states: “The reasonableness of the force employed will depend upon the number of aggressors, nature and characteristic of the weapon used, physical condition, size and other circumstances to include the place and occasion of the assault. The police officer is given the sound discretion to consider these factors in employing reasonable force.”

Still and all, President Duterte himself has assured policemen and soldiers that if they should face legal suits for killing suspects, they would not have to go to jail for it because “akin ‘yun, ako mauuna sa inyo.” Presumably, he means he is ultimately responsible and he will be the first to take the blame.

Bato’s directives

PNP chief Dela Rosa echoes Duterte’s position, saying that he wants two results from the campaign: “Gusto ko na ‘pag ‘yung pulis nag-operate, they should follow the police operational procedure, ‘yung naaayon sa batas (it’s according to law). Another thing I want is that when the police conduct operations, they should remain alive, they shouldn’t end up dead. After the smoke has cleared, sila ay nakatayo at bulagta ‘yung criminal (they are standing and the criminal is dead on the ground).”

Dela Rosa said he has advised his men to stand their ground amid concerns about human rights. “Hindi ko sinasabi na huwag matakot ang ating kapulisan sa human rights, that’s wrong. Ang palagi ko lang nire-remind sa kanila, remember na kapag kayo’y namatay walang human rights na magbibigay ng pagkain sa mga anak ninyo na nagiging fatherless, nauulila ‘yung mga anak. (I am not saying the police should not bother with human rights…My constant reminder to them, though, is that if they die, human rights cannot feed their children.)”

Human rights, in dela Rosa’s book, will not feed the orphans of policemen or send them to school.

He told PCIJ: “Walang human rights na magpapa-aral sa mga anak niyo. So isipin niyo, mag-isip kayo, between being parang natatakot ka sa human rights, or natatakot ka na maiwan yung mga anak mo na walang father walang kinabukasan yung mga anak mo pag namatay ka. So you better, ganito ang gawin niyo, in case na in danger ‘yung buhay ninyo, Ang importante, kayo’y buhay. You explain later, kung kasuhan man kayo, harapin niyo yung kaso, importante buhay kayo. (Human rights will not be able to send your children to school. So you better think about it — should you be afraid of human rights or your children turning into orphans without a future, if you die? The important thing is you are alive, and if you should face suits, deal with the case. The important thing is you are alive.)”

Pre-Tokhang: 1 killed in 10 days

Data from PNP’s Anti-Illegal Drugs Group (AIDG) from January 2010 to June 2016 — the last six months of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and the six-year term of former President Benigno S. Aquino III — showed much lower numbers of casualties and arrests made, but also bigger values and volumes of drugs seized, compared to that recorded in Duterte’s three-week war.

The 213 drug suspects killed under Duterte’s war (an average of 10 persons a day) is a macabre figure compared to the 256 persons “killed in action” in the 78-month period or 2,336 days from January 2010 to June 2016 (an average of about one person every 10 days).

In the 78 months before Duterte came to power, the PNP had conducted a total of 96,530 anti-drug operations, of which 46 percent were buy-bust operations; 28.4 percent “in flagrante” (the suspects were caught in the act); 16.1 percent via search warrant; 4.6 percent as checkpoint operations; 2.5 percent as “saturation drive”; 1.7 percent as “marijuana eradication” operations; 0.6 percent as “warrant of arrest”; and 0.1 percent as “interdiction.”

According to the PNP, of its total operations from January 2010 to June 2016, at least 15,508 were covered by search warrants, and another 611 with warrants of arrest. The police also said its anti-drug operations during that period altogether led to the arrest of 137,489 persons, including 62,464 alleged drug users; 51,028 alleged drug pushers; 23,382 alleged users who are also alleged pushers; 412 cultivators; and 203 minors. Another 794 suspects had “eluded arrest,” said the PNP.

On average, however, the total operations conducted by the PNP during those six and a half years come up to only 42 operations a day, and those arrested, 59 persons daily. In contrast, Duterte’s war in three weeks’ time has sent the police visiting a total of 62,218 houses, and with the help of barangay officials, coaxing the “surrender” of 116,466 persons. During the same period, which ended last July 21, a total of 3,005 alleged drug users and drug pushers had been arrested, or an average of 143 persons a day.

The PNP’s reports on Oplan Tokhang, though, do not offer data on how many of the various types of operations against illegal drugs have been conducted with mission orders, and which of these have been covered by search warrants or warrants of arrest. Many data fields in the PNP’s reports on the war on drugs prior to the Duterte administration do not appear anymore in its recent reports.

Small harvest of drugs

Project Tokhang under Duterte falls far behind the PNP’s prior campaign in terms of drugs seized by value and volume. In 78 months of the war on drugs before Duterte, the PNP said it had confiscated various drugs (shabu, marijuana, ecstacy, cocaine, ephedrine, as well as acetone, chloroform, rugby, etc.) worth a grand total of P24.89 billion. In contrast, Tokhang has so far netted only 230 kilos of shabu, 5,815 sachets of shabu, 13,413 marijuana plants, 138 sachets of marijuana, one tablet of Ecstasy, and no cocaine at all, among others.

Before Duterte’s war, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency said that from January 2010 to June 2016, it had filed a total of 19,843 drug cases in court, while other law-enforcement agencies contributed another 81,422 cases — or a total of 101,265 cases.

Project Tokhang, according to the PNP Directorate for Investigation and Detective Management (DIDM) has reportedly triggered the filing of 3,477 court cases from May 10 to July 10, 2016. The PNP’s later reports on Tokhang that starts on the first of day of Duterte’s term as Commander-in-Chief of PNP do not show any updated data on cases filed.

The rise and fall of the quantitative “achievements” of specific PNP regional offices before and after Tokhang are a curious matter, too.

The Calabarzon police force topped the regional offices for having the largest number of operations conducted within the six-and-a-half-year period before Duterte’s war with 22,796. The Metro Manila police came in second with 19,466. The other police regional offices and their anti-drug operations during the period follow:

Central Visayas police with 11,197 operations;
Central Luzon, 8,256;
Ilocos region, 4,891;
Davao region, 4,424;
Northern Mindanao, 4,231;
Soccsksargen, 3,451;
Western Visayas, 3,129;
Zamboanga Peninsula, 2,972;
Bicol Region, 2,554;
Caraga Region, 1,973;
Cagayan Valley, 1,958;
Eastern Visayas, 1,582;
Mimaropa, 1,199;
Cordillera Administrative Region, 896;
Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, 567; and
Negros Island police, which just started operations in 2015, with 416 operations.

The PNP also recorded a total of 441 anti-drug operations under its Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG); 130 under AIDG; and one operation under its Aviation Security Group (AVSEGRP).

How the regions fare

Despite being the youngest regional police force, the Negros Island police ranked first in number of persons killed in action (KIA) with 110, followed by Calabarzon as a far second with 55. A total of 256 persons were killed in action from January 2010 to June 2016.

Calabarzon, Metro Manila, and Central Visayas police offices also clinched the top three spots when it comes to number of persons arrested — 33,629, 28,753, and 15,054, respectively.

The NCR police office, meanwhile, filed the most number of cases in court against violators of laws against illegal drugs – 31,082 cases from 2010 to June 2016. Calabarzon came in second with 28,476 cases, and Central Visayas as a far third with 17,281. These three regions filed more than 60 percent of the 126,692 total cases.

Under Duterte, of the 213 persons killed from July 1 to 21, one third or 77 — including two police officers — were from Metro Manila. Central Luzon came in in second with 63 civilians and one police officer killed, followed by Calabarzon with 29 civilians and one police officer killed.

From reporting seven deaths during anti-drug operations in the past six and a half years, NCR now leads the death toll from the drug war, while Negros Island Region, the former No. 1, has reported no deaths yet.

In the last three weeks ending July 21, the police have recorded zero incidents of killing during anti-drug operations in Cagayan Valley, Mimaropa, Zamboanga Peninsula, and Northern Mindanao.

Yet even as they continue racking up numbers of operations, arrests, and killings, the PNP seems to have become less generous in sharing other details. Its latest reports do not show the number and kind of operations, and the cases that the police have filed against the suspects. Too, the new reports do not classify the suspects as pushers, users, cultivators, user-pushers, or minors that earlier PNP reports had done.

There are no data anymore in the PNP reports about the number of suspects who had “eluded arrest” even as earlier reports pegged the figure for its 6.5-year coverage at 794, with Calabarzon having the most escapees at 202. — With additional reporting by Karol Ilagan and Davinci Maru, PCIJ, July 2016