What do gov’t circulars ‘operationalizing’ Duterte’s war on drugs say?

Jodesz Gavilan

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What do gov’t circulars ‘operationalizing’ Duterte’s war on drugs say?

Alecs Ongcal

The Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) files petitions for injunction and prohibition against two circulars relating to the conduct of the anti-illegal drugs campaign in the Philippines

MANILA, Philippines – A group of lawyers is asking the Supreme Court (SC) to declare the war on drugs of the Philippine National Police (PNP) unconstitutional.

The Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) on October 11, 2017 filed petitions for injunction and prohibition against two circulars relating to the conduct of the anti-illegal drugs campaign: PNP’s Command Memorandum Circular No. 16-2016 and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG)’s Memorandum Circular No. 2017-112. (READ: Was the PNP’s war on drugs illegal? Here’s why lawyers think so) 

FLAG lawyer Jose Manuel Diokno during the oral arguments before the SC on Tuesday, November 21, said that neutralization and negation are not legal terms, yet for the PNP, to “neutralize” means to “kill.” 

The huge number of killings in President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs has been constantly criticized by both the local and international community. Latest PNP data shows that at least 3,850 people have been killed in police operations, while at least 2,290 others have been killed mostly by vigilantes.

Command Memorandum Circular No. 16-2016
Philippine National Police 

Signed by PNP Chief General Ronald dela Rosa on July 1, 2016, Command Memorandum Circular (CMC) No. 16-2016 essentially discusses how Project Double Barrel will be operationalized or implemented. It was released by the National Police Commission.

The circular includes “general guidelines, procedures and tasks of police offices/units/stations” in the conduct of the war on drugs, specifying that the campaign is “in support to the Barangay Drug Clearing Strategy of the government and the neutralization of illegal drug personalities nationwide.” 

The PNP discusses in the circular the anti-drug campaign’s two-pronged approach: Project Tokhang and Project HVT. 

The circular identified Tokhang, labeled as a lower barrel approach, as “a practical and realistic means of accelerating the drive against illegal drugs in affected barangays.” 

Under Tokhang are 5 stages: Collection and Validation of Information, Coordination, House to House Visitation, Processing and Documentation, and the Monitoring and Evaluation.  

The Project HVT, meanwhile, is a “massive and reinvigorated conduct of anti-illegal drugs operations targeting illegal drugs personalities and drug syndicates.” 

Aside from the general guidelines, CMC No. 16-2016 also discusses the role of several PNP units in the war on drugs. For example, it established the  National Anti-illegal Drugs Monitoring Center (NAIDMC) under the PNP National Operations Center, which is tasked to create a database for all the reports of operations in relation to the drug war. 

However, FLAG’s petition before the SC said that the circular “did not cite any written instructions, executive order, administrative order, memorandum circular, memorandum order, or proclamation from President Duterte.” 

Under Executive Order No. 292, the President is required to put into writing any order.

“CMC 16-2016, in other words, is not based on any presidential directive but rather is based on a mere verbal pronouncement or campaign promise made by Duterte before he assumed the presidency – which obviously has no legal force and effect,” FLAG added.  

Memorandum Circular (MC) No. 2017-112
Department of the Interior and Local Government

Memorandum Circular (MC) No. 2017-112, released on August 29, 2017 implemented Mamamayang Ayaw sa Anomalya, Mamamayang Ayaw sa Iligal na Droga (Masa Masid).

Masa Masid, however, was initially introduced via MC No. 2016-116 signed on September 2, 2016. According to the DILG, this program encourages the involvement of the community “through a multi-sectoral and mass-based approach.” 

While it originally meant to address the problems of corruption, criminality, extremism, and other threats, Masa Masid became mainly an avenue for residents to report suspected drug personalities.  

The program provides for the creation of technical working groups per city, municipality, and barangay. All of them have the “responsibility” to establish “modes of reporting”, one of which is the drop box.

The circular directs technical working groups per city, municipality, and barangay to be the ones responsible for establishing a system of reporting to gather information that can be fed to national agencies. The mode of reporting includes a hotline, drop box, electronic mail, and text messaging. 

But perhaps the most controversial has been the use of drop boxes where residents can leave anonymous tips regarding drug personalities in their area. (READ: Drop box for suspected drug users: A tool for revenge?) 

'DRUG BOXES'. Barangay Valencia in Quezon City installed wooden boxes to accept reports against drug suspects. Photo by LeAnne Jazul/Rappler

The drop boxes are feared to be the basis of drug lists which in turn are the basis of anti-drug operations. The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said that this method “may expose an individual to mistaken arrest if the information is not verified and court processes are not involved.”

FLAG, meanwhile, said in the petition that encouraging residents to report crimes is different from asking them to submit names of suspected criminals – particularly drug personalities.

“The reporting of crimes is done by witnesses who have knowledge of criminal activity. The reporting of alleged criminals can be done by anyone who suspects, rightly or wrongly, that another person is criminal,” FLAG said. – Rappler.com

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Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and impunity beats, producing in-depth and investigative reports particularly on the quest for justice of victims of former president Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs and war on dissent.