More shock, awe in war on drugs
A day after Oscar Albayalde was sworn into office as the new chief of the Philippine National Police, 14 drug suspects were killed for allegedly resisting arrest in antidrug operations in Bulacan.
The “Province-wide Simultaneous Operations on Illegal Drugs,” as the Bulacan cops dubbed it, also netted 91 arrests as well as “over 111 grams of suspected crystal meth or shabu, 510 grams of marijuana leaves and other drug paraphernalia, grenades, firearms, ammunition, and motorcycles from the suspects,” according to a CNN report.
As grand entrances went, Albayalde’s show of force in his first hours as PNP chief was impressive.
At his inaugural address, the former chief of the National Capital Region Police Office vowed to continue his “low-key but stern kind of leadership” as the new head of the 180,000-strong police force.
But 14 deaths in one blow can hardly be a reasonable definition of a “low-key” operation, so the more telling words may be those that came from Albayalde a day after the Bulacan sweep: “Those operations were all normal,” he insisted in a radio interview. “Whether it was chief PNP [Ronald] dela Rosa or me … the order of President Duterte is to intensify the campaign against illegal drugs. Like what the President said, we will not stop until the last supplier, coddler or pusher is put behind bars.”
In other words, it’s business as usual — and a letdown for certain quarters. Those who were harboring the hope that the change in leadership at the PNP would also bring about a rethink of the administration’s bloody war on drugs appear headed for more disappointment.
The era of Albayalde’s immediate predecessor, the controversial, showboating “Bato” dela Rosa, was riddled with shocking incidents of abuse that considerably damaged the image and institutional effectiveness of the PNP, from the case of Korean businessman Jee Ick-joo, kidnapped and murdered by cops themselves, to those of teenager Kian delos Santos and other ordinary Filipinos, minors even, who died at the hands of policemen.
Albayalde inherits a force saddled by tens of thousands of unexplained, mostly uninvestigated deaths—a frightening record that has forced a number of observers and institutions to sit up and demand answers.
The Supreme Court, for one, has required the PNP to explain the gruesome death tally and to turn over records of its “Tokhang” operations — a ruling it has yet to comply with.
The European Union, the US government and the International Criminal Court have all taken interest, issuing forceful statements of concern about the continuing incidences of extrajudicial killings under the Duterte administration.
But Malacañang’s response to such warnings has been rote and uniform: Denounce the statements as interference in the country’s internal affairs, demonize foreigners who remind the Philippine government about its international human rights commitments (such as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights special rapporteur Agnes Callamard), and baldly
deny the reality of EJKs.
The 14 recent deaths in Bulacan add not only to the still rising national death count, but to the carnage with which this particular province has been marked under the aegis of the war on drugs.
It was also in Bulacan, in August 2017, when 32 drug suspects were killed — the biggest one-day death tally of the PNP’s campaign.
Lamentably, it was a record that merited praise from the President: “Makapatay lang tayo ng (If we can kill) another 32 every day, maybe we can fix what ails this country,” he had said at the time.
Would the much-admired Albayalde chart a different path? Would he stand up for vigorous law enforcement that, at the same time, respects and upholds the basic constitutional rights of Filipino citizens?
Perhaps it’s too early to tell, but the shock and awe of his early days in office do not serve to inspire much confidence. An EJK-weary nation desperately hopes that he will prove such fears wrong.
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