How TokHang lives on through barangay officials

Rambo Talabong
How TokHang lives on through barangay officials
The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency says it needs barangay officials to win the drug war

MANILA, Philippines – Now that the Philippine National Police (PNP) has taken a back seat in the Duterte administration’s war on drugs, it is up to barangay officials to take the helm.

That is the sentiment of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), according to its spokesperson Derrick Carreon, after President Rodrigo Duterte designated PDEA as the sole implementing agency of the drug war.

“The main players are really the LGUs (local government units), because it’s your turf, it’s your responsibility,” Carreon told Rappler in a mix of English and Filipino on Sunday, October 22.

In a phone interview, he pointed to Board Regulation Order No. 3 of the Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB), which strengthens the implementation of the Barangay Drug Clearing Program.

The program aims to combat the drug menace through the cooperation of law enforcers, led by PDEA, and communities, led by elected officials such as barangay captains and councilors.

Under the plan, barangay officials can come knocking at residents’ doors to check if they are involved in the drug trade, similar to the PNP’s controversial Oplan TokHang. The only difference is that barangay officials seldom have guns.

What barangay officials can do

Carreon reminded barangay officials that they should take part in anti-drug operations such as “citizen’s arrest buy-bust operations” for drug suspects, and “administrative searches” for suspected drug laboratories.

The citizen’s arrest buy-bust operations are also like the PNP’s buy-bust operations, which involve supporting PDEA agents posing as drug dealers to catch real ones in their neighborhoods. (READ: PDEA chief says PNP ‘still needed’ in drug war)

The administrative searches, on the other hand, involve directly searching a facility believed to function as a drug den or laboratory. The barangay health officer is required in these operations.

Aside from these, the DDB order also allows barangay officials to arrest drug suspects and raid their homes, as long as they have the proper warrants.

Without the paperwork, barangay officials can still conduct house visits to check on their constituents, something that cops and PDEA agents cannot do.

BLOODY WAR. Amid controversies, the Philippine National Police is no longer handling the war on drugs. File photo by Alecs Ongcal/Rappler

The order initially provided that PDEA lead the operations while the PNP, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), and barangay officials give support. But with the PNP and the AFP taken out of the picture, PDEA is left with barangay officials.

With only over a thousand PDEA operatives nationwide, the burden to work harder, according to Carreon, lies on the shoulders of barangay officials.

“Ngayon dahil pinagbawal na sa pulis ang drug war. Tayo kasi sa PDEA, we don’t have the manpower (Now that cops are forbidden from joining the drug war, we don’t have enough manpower in PDEA). That’s the point why barangay officials need to step up,” Carreon said.

Aside from the power to conduct operations, barangay officials have also been tasked to make an “inventory” or list of drug suspects in their area to help with PDEA investigations. (READ: On a drug list and innocent? Here’s what you should do)

Protectors to face punishment

The problem, according to Carreon, is that barangay officials have neglected to operate with law enforcers, even when cops were still around.

Carreon noted that officials are “afraid,” given that drug operations usually end in a gunfight. There have been at least 3,900 drug suspects and 82 cops killed in drug operations under the Duterte administration.

Carreon said they also suspect that some officials may have been deliberately neglecting their duty to become “protectors” in the drug trade, allowing narcotics to proliferate in their neighborhood in exchange for a share of drug money. (READ: Duterte: Drug money might influence barangay, SK polls)

“Barangay officials, as with any other officials who fail to make concrete actions, possibly they are tagged as protectors. Bakit pa ‘di ginagawa ang trabaho (Why else would they not do their jobs)?” Carreon said.

This is why the new DDB order provides sanctions against barangay officials who fail to curb the drug trade in their areas.

The order reads: “Failure of [government] employees and officials to conform with the duties as mandated in this regulation shall be a ground for the filing of appropriate charges…”

Local officials can face both administrative and criminal complaints if found to be involved in the drug trade. –


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Rambo Talabong

Rambo Talabong covers the House of Representatives and local governments for Rappler. Prior to this, he covered security and crime. He was named Jaime V. Ongpin Fellow in 2019 for his reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. In 2021, he was selected as a journalism fellow by the Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics.