Amid drug planting accusations, can Duterte stand by his police?

PHOTO: Facebook/ Presidential Communications

“If the Congress, Ombudsman and Commission on Human Rights starts giving the police a hard time, there is a provision in the constitution that the president can pardon the criminal whether conditional or full,” Duterte would tell reporters during the 2016 presidential elections in Filipino.

It’s a promise the former Davao City Mayor and city prosecutor had repeated throughout the campaign and his presidency so far.

And due to recent events facing the Philippines’ national police force, the main agency responsible for executing the presidents’ orders of waging a campaign against illegal drugs, this promise may soon be put to the test.

While the previous administration faced controversy over ‘tanim bala’ or a bullet planting scheme, the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte is facing something similar: ‘Tanim droga’ or drug planting.  Victims have been coming forward to allege that police are planting drugs and staging phony buy-bust operations in order to arrest innocent people for drug possession as part of the administration’s campaign against illegal drugs.

‘Tanim droga’
An alleged victim of the drug-planting scheme came forward and detailed what happened in an interview with ABS-CBN News’ TV Patrol on Thursday.

The victim, who would only identify himself as “Michael,” said he was going to buy medicine for his son when he was arrested by police in plain clothes outside of his home in Mabalacat, a town in the northern Philippines.

He told the reporter that he was taken to the prison where the police revealed the drugs and marked money, which he claims he only saw once he reached the precinct. “The police said every operation they would just kill the suspect and say that the suspect fought back even if he didn’t,” Michael said, referring to Senior Inspector Melvin Florida.

Florida denies the charges and challenged Michael to a lie detector test.

Michael was released 11 days after the arrest when the courts found the circumstances of the buy-bust operations “questionable.”

But according to Michael, there are at least 10 others who were also victims of alleged drug-planting schemes.

When Duterte was elected last year, he vowed to wage a “bloody” war on drugs and “criminality” within 3 to 6 months through the “double barrel” plan.

Double barrel meant that the police would be pursuing two separate, but simultaneous strategies against drug dealers.

First, through pursuing high level targets through police operations.

The street level pushers would be pursued through what was called “Oplan Tokhang,” a portmanteau of the Visayan words “toktok” (to knock) and “hangyo” (plead). In this plan, police would knock on doors in the villages and ask suspected drug users and dealers to surrender and pledge to stop using or dealing drugs.

Pyra Lucas, a coordinator for Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption, told TV Patrol that she believes that the pressure on police departments to show results may have been what led the police to plant drugs. “We were bewildered that instead of the numbers of arrests dwindling as the campaign against drugs progressed, it stayed the same,” she said in Filipino. “Were they planting drugs only to show that the police could put these operations on their accomplishment report? If the intelligence chiefs were that bright — why can’t they go after the “big guys” — where the drugs actually come from?”

According to a report in SunStar Pampanga, the chief of Bacolor town — where the drug planting incidents happened — and 11 others, were relieved from their positions pending investigation

At least 78 police officers in the Manila Police District are under investigation for their involvement in planting drugs during police operations, according to a report in the Philippine Star.

Senior citizens extorted
According to an ABS-CBN report, 4 senior citizens, all over the age of 60, were also alleged victims of drug planting during a drug bust that took place at the hotel they were working at in Santa Cruz Manila.

Among the victims were Api Ang, 61, who owned the coffee shop inside of the hotel.

He was charged when drugs were allegedly confiscated from the hotel unit he was staying in. Although the charges were later dismissed by the city prosecutor’s office, he remained in custody pending “automatic review” by the Department of Justice.

Ang died while in custody due to heat exhaustion last month.

According to a report in GMA News, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre said he is ordering an investigation as to why Ang had not been released, violating a memorandum that orders suspects not charged with crimes facing life imprisonment should be released pending review.

Aguirre promised that National Bureau of Investigation would investigate “possible violations of laws of the MPD and its responsible officers in the arrest and death of Ang.”

‘Standing by police’
While Duterte has yet to issue a statement regarding the drug planting, he has been consistent in taking the side of the police when accused of misconduct.

Late 2016, Duterte told policeman and soldiers that while he would not meddle in investigations, he would believe policeman and soldiers facing misconduct allegations “even if it’s not true.”

“Public interest says that I should support the police and I should believe them. Now you have a story there, we’ll provide to the court,” Duterte said in a speech last year when police superintendent Marvin Marcos faced an inquiry over the slay of Leyte town mayor and alleged drug lord Roland Espinosa, who was killed while he was in prison.

The Senate also called for an inquiry into Manila police officer Ronald Alvarez identified by witnesses from the Moriones neighborhood of Tondo, Manila, as the gunman behind extrajudicial killings in their neighborhood.

In the same neighborhood, on April 27, the Commission on Human Rights found at least 12 people accused of being drug dealers, were being detained without charges in a tiny dark cell hidden behind a bookshelf in a Manila police station.

With more accusations stacking against members of the Philippine National Police for drug planting and other forms of misconduct, will Duterte be able to stand by his police and his word?

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