MANILA, Philippines – Oplan TokHang violates people’s constitutional rights.
This was one of the findings of the Senate committee on justice and human rights, which conducted a probe into the spate of extrajudicial killings under the Duterte administration.
Senator Richard Gordon, committee chairman, said the conduct by which authorities ask alleged drug users and pushers to surrender and sign a waiver or document is illegal.
Oplan TokHang had started in poor communities, then eventually reached gated villages, subdivisions, condominiums, and offices. (READ: Village ‘TokHang’: Disadvantage to say no to cops – NCRPO chief)
The operation, critics and human rights activists said, have paved the way for extrajudicial killings.
“Iyong mga tokhang-tokhang na ginagawa natin, may violation ‘yan ng constitutional rights ng mga tao. Kailangan may abogado at saka dapat dagdagan ang turo sa mga tao ng kanilang constitutional rights against self-incrimination at saka ‘yung kanilang mga rights against rogue policemen,” Gordon told reporters on Tuesday, December 6.
(In Oplan TokHang, there is violation of people’s constitutional rights. They need to have lawyers, and they should be taught their constitutional rights against self-incrimination and their rights against rogue policemen.)
Oplan TokHang was first introduced in Davao City, with cops literally knocking on the doors of suspected drug users and dealers to persuade them to stop using or peddling drugs. “TokHang” is a contraction of the Visayan words “toktok” (knock) and “hangyo” (request). (READ: ‘Nanlaban sila’: Duterte’s war on drugs)
“Dapat kung magpapapirma kayo dapat may abogadong kasama ‘yun. Hindi nga nag-surrender [‘yung mga iba] eh. Pinapapunta nila tapos, ‘O, pumirma ka na, ikaw ay dating drug addict. Dati kang ganoon.’ Eh di bawal ‘yun, ‘di dapat ‘yun,” Gordon said.
(There should be a lawyer when they sign documents. Some did not even surrender but they were told to come with the police. They were told, “Sign that to signify you were a drug addict, that you were a former like this.” That is prohibited, that should not be done.)
Even as Gordon recognized the loopholes in authorities’ operation, he maintained that neither President Rodrigo Duterte nor the state is sponsoring extrajudicial killings. He also reiterated that there was no proof of the Davao Death Squad.
“Wala kaming makuhang state-sponsored ‘yun at saka too short ‘yung mga testigo. Saka lahat naman ng mga tinestigo nina Senator De Lima ay kinuha namin at hindi na prove ‘yung Davao Death Squad. Pero ang na-prove namin ay nagsisinungaling si Matobato,” Gordon said, referring to witness Edgar Matobato who accused Duterte of ordering killings when he was Davao City mayor.
(We did not get any proof that the killings are state-sponsored and the witnesses were too short. We accommodated all witnesses of Senator Leila de Lima but they were not able to prove the existence of the Davao Death Squad. What we have proven is that Matobato was lying.)
Gordon, in the report, recommended the filing of charges against Matobato.
Asked how to reconcile the seemingly contradictory findings – faulty police operations and no state sponsorship of killings – Gordon said the government backs the operation as a way to identify drug users and dealers, but not as a way to conduct summary executions.
“Sponsored in such a way for identifying drugs, para ma-dismantle drug syndicates o drug pushers. Hindi para patayin. Ang state-sponsored ay, ‘O, papatayin natin yan,'” the senator said.
(Sponsored in such a way for identifying drugs, for dismantling drug syndicates or going after drug pushers. But not to kill them. State-sponsored is when you say, “Let’s kill them.”)
‘Very bad behavior’
Another finding of the committee, Gordon said, is the “very bad behavior” of De Lima and Senator Antonio Trillanes IV – two of the fiercest critics of the President.
De Lima walked out during one of the hearings, after Gordon accused her of “material concealment” for allegedly not disclosing the fact that Matobato was accused of kidnapping alleged terrorist Sali Makdum.
Senate transcripts, however, showed that Matobato himself revealed this fact in past hearings. But Gordon stood by his accusation.
“De Lima behaved very badly by walking out. Hindi ginagawa ng senador ‘yun,” Gordon said.
(De Lima behaved very badly by walking out. A senator doesn’t do that.)
Gordon also denounced Trillanes for allowing Matobato to leave the Senate premises without asking permission from him. Gordon alleged that Trillanes did that because Matobato’s supposed “lies” were already evident.
At the time, Trillanes denied it and explained that Matobato had been waiting for his turn since 7 o’clock in the morning but the Senate never called him to testify.
Despite these incidents, Gordon said he did not recommend any charges or complaints against the two senators for their conduct.
“I will leave it up to the Senate to do that. Hindi ko na inilagay na recommended for ethics. It would be up to the Senate kung gusto nilang mag-ethics committee,” said Gordon.
(I will leave it up to the Senate to do that. I did not put in the report that the two senators were recommended to be charged over ethics violations. It would be up to the Senate if they want the ethics committee to look into the incidents.)