BANGKAY SA BANGKETA… kasi nga drug pusher ako.
This is the sad refrain in a sardonic poem that a young Filipina wrote and read in a video she posted last week on her Facebook page. It does not matter, she averred, that the so-called drug pushers falling by the dozens of late had not been read their rights or tried in court. Or even, that they had been killed by those who are supposed to protect them and enforce the law. Perhaps, she wrote, those who kill are drug pushers, too.
Indeed, a pall of death has cloaked the nation in mixed glee, grief, confusion, and anxiety in the first three weeks alone of the war on drugs of President Rodrigo R. Duterte, who will deliver his first state of the nation address today.
But who will be killed next is not quite clear as yet. In the meantime, the question of why the poor and puny pushers are dying in high numbers compared to just a handful of their rich counterparts, the drug lords, and their supposed coddlers in the police has been either inadequately answered or ignored.
By the data of the police — until now the singular source of information of the news media about the war on drugs — about 10 bodies have been showing up by the road and in the slums every day, or a total of 213 killed in Duterte’s first 21 days in office alone. The casualty toll includes 209 civilians and only four policemen that the police had tagged as alleged drug pushers.
Combatting drugs has always been a major police activity over the last seven years. Then and now, however, the PNP’s reports on the supposed “achievements” of the campaign have risen and fallen, across regions of the country.
By official PNP reports, Duterte’s war on drugs has netted much bigger numbers of those killed and arrested in its initial rollout period but also smaller seizures of drugs, by value and volume.
By all indications, however, Duterte’s war has assumed a random, free-for-all, brook-no-limits in law and due process, a kill-at-will campaign against mostly small-time drug suspects. This is happening despite the explicit rules of the 200-page Philippine National Police Handbook PNPM-Do-Ds-3-2-13 or Revised PNP Manual on Operational Procedures published in December 2013.
Cookie Diokno of the Free Legal Assistance Group of human rights lawyers says the big difference in the war on drugs then and now is this: Duterte’s war has flipped the “burden of proof” principle in the statutes inside out. In other words, says Diokno, “you are now presumed guilty, until proven innocent.”
Compared with data on the PNP’s anti-drug campaign in the 78 months from January 2010 to June 2016, Duterte’s three-week-old war has upped the numbers of alleged drug users and pushers killed and arrested multiple-fold.
The downside is Duterte’s war is unfolding with negligible documentation of the conduct of police operations and the death of suspects. In a majority of cases, the suspects were killed purportedly because they “resisted arrest” or tried to snatch the guns of and engaged arresting officers in a firefight.
Data from PNP’s Anti-Illegal Drugs Group (AIDG) in the 78 months before Duterte came to power, showed much lower numbers of casualties and arrests made, but also bigger values and volumes of drugs seized, compared to that recorded in the new government’s three-week war.
The 213 drug suspects killed under Duterte’s war from Jully 1 to 21, 2016 (an average of 10 persons a day) is a macabre figure compared to the 256 persons “killed in action” in the 78-month period or 2,336 days from January 2010 to June 2016 (an average of about one person every 10 days).
In the 78 months before Duterte, the PNP had conducted a total of 96,530 anti-drug operations, of which 46 percent were buy-bust operations; 28.4 percent “in flagrante” (the suspects were caught in the act); 16.1 percent via search warrant; 4.6 percent as checkpoint operations; 2.5 percent as “saturation drive”; 1.7 percent as “marijuana eradication” operations; 0.6 percent as “warrant of arrest”; and 0.1 percent as “interdiction.”
The PNP’s reports on Oplan Tokhang, though, do not offer data on how many of the various types of operations against illegal drugs have been conducted with mission orders, and which of these have been covered by search warrants or warrants of arrest. Many data fields in the PNP’s reports on the war on drugs prior to the Duterte administration do not appear anymore in its recent reports.
Yet another story should also raise grave concern among citizens. What drugs and substances, indeed, should be considered illegal?
Of the various types of drugs that the police had confiscated, over-the-counter substances and laboratory chemicals with legitimate but controlled uses have been enrolled, too. These include marijuana resin oil, rugby, Cytotec, ketamine, “Sulfuric,” sodium hydroxide, acetone, chloroform, palladium chloride, hydrochloric acid, Pseudoephedrine and Diazepam.
— PCIJ, January 2019
While most of the seized substances and drugs can only be bought in the black market, some items like hydrochloric acid (also known as muriatic acid), rugby, and acetone are easily available in sari-sari stores and hardware stores and are not on the list of illegal substances. Chemicals like chloroform and toluene are being used in research and industrial laboratories.