Following criticism from Vice President and newly appointed drug czar Leni Robredo, the Philippine government has announced its willingness to put and end to Oplan Tokhang, a controversial campaign that aims to encourage drug suspects to surrender to the police, but which has also been blamed for widespread killings.
In a press conference yesterday at Malacañang Palace, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said the government was willing to stop the operation if Robredo wanted to do so. Robredo, a vocal critic of the drug war who was recently appointed co-chair of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs, suggested last week that Oplan Tokhang should be scrapped “because of the many senseless killings” committed under it, The Philippine Daily Inquirer reported.
“As long as VP Leni is in charge, whatever she feels that should be enforced, we will do it,” Panelo said. “It is a ‘yes’ if she wants it.”
“She’s been given the authority,” he added, somewhat mockingly. “If she wants to scrap it, she’s the anti-drug czar, if she thinks there’s something more effective then she should do that.”
“Tokhang” is a portmanteau for the Visayan phrase “katok at hangyo,” which means to “knock and plead.” The original idea was for cops to knock on drug suspects’ doors and ask them to surrender. However, the word has become synonymous with extrajudicial killings thanks to its association with police raids that have left thousands of drug suspects dead.
The Philippine National Police have repeatedly maintained that the suspects were killed because they fought back, but Filipinos have grown justifiably skeptical of the official line.
Meanwhile, former police chief and current Senator Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, the cop responsible for launching Oplan Tokhang in 2016, reacted defensively today to Robredo’s suggestion. He said in an interview on the ANC show “Headstart” that the operation led to the surrender of thousands of drug suspects.
“Without Oplan Tokhang, we could not have 1.6 million surrenderers, we could not have 130,000 drug personalities arrested. Without Oplan Tokhang, we could not have reduced the index crime volume by 49 percent,” said dela Rosa in a mix of English and Filipino.
“So what’s wrong with Oplan Tokhang? Maybe they just couldn’t accept that this Oplan is what ruined the strategy of many drug personalities here [in the country].”
However, dela Rosa’s estimation of the situation was somewhat at odds with the government’s own assessment. In 2017, President Rodrigo Duterte, who launched his bloody drug war a year before, put the number of addicts in the country at 4 million. In February of this year, he put the number at 8 million, a figure that has been endorsed by the PNP, though no independent assessments have been carried out to verify it.