Papa, why did they take you away?

CHAPTER 1
BANNER AND PHOTOS BY EZRA ACAYAN

Tatay Romy isn’t the only one willing to risk his life for the sake of his children. He is also not the only one who has been killed in this war against illegal drugs.

Ever since the presidential campaign of now Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, Duterte had vowed to eliminate illegal drugs in the country, even if it meant killing people in the process. During his first State of the Nation Address back in July 2016, he said, “We will not stop until the last drug lord...and the last pusher have surrendered or are put either behind bars or below the ground, if they so wish.”

To bring to life the President’s mission against drugs, Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief Director Ronald Dela Rosa signed Command Memorandum Circular No. 16-2016.

“We will call it Campaign Plan Double Barrel. Isang kalabit sa barrel, dalawang trigger ang puputok. Merong barrel na naka kalabit sa taas, sa high value target at merong barrel na tatama doon sa baba, doon sa mga street-level personalities (One touch of the barrel, two triggers will set off. There’s a barrel that will be aimed above, the high-value targets. And there’s the barrel aimed below, the street-level personalities),” Dela Rosa said in an interview with Rappler back in June 2016.

These two strategies of the anti-drug operation are named Project HVT, and Oplan Tokhang respectively. Oplan Tokhang, meaning “knock and plead”, is a strategy that involves door-to-door visitations by the police to request people involved in drugs to “voluntarily” surrender and stop their drug activities. In If You Are Poor, You Are Killed, a report by Amnesty International, barangay officials are said to collaborate with the police to compile a list known as the “drug watch list” that notes down all the suspected drug users and pushers in an area. There have been instances, however, that names fall on these lists based on hearsay and community rumours or rivalries, with no verification whatsoever.

In the same research by Amnesty International, police officers are also reported to have routinely bust down doors in the middle of the night then proceed to shoot in cold blood unarmed people they suspected to use or sell drugs. The police the next day would report that these people fought back. It was just a matter of self-defense.

Witnesses and neighbors, however, have reported that people who did not even own guns, who were innocent, who were willing to surrender, were still gunned down by the police. Witnesses of the killings confided in the organizers of Project SOW and Rise Up and said that they saw police officers place a gun in the victim’s hand and a pack of drugs in the other. The next day, these people would be accused of fighting back against the police.

The President justified all the killings as a way to protect all the other law-abiding citizens in his country. In another press conference, he said, “I would like to give an advice to all the human rights [groups] shouting now, local and international. I said, you can all go to hell. Because it is never ever wrong for the President and the police and the military to protect its citizens.”

In a press conference back in September 2016, after his visit to Vietnam, the father of the nation said, “Hitler massacred 3 million Jews. Now, there are 3 million drug addicts. There are. I’d be happy to slaughter them.”

Because of this, left-behind families are afraid to approach any government institution like the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) or even their own local barangay, for help. They are afraid of approaching the very people who could be responsible for their husbands’ deaths, according to Fr. Daniel Pilario, C.M., the Director of Project SOW, a joint effort of St. Vincent School of Theology, DePaul House, and the Ina ng Lupang Pangako Parish that aims to provide community-based rehabilitation services to the families who were left behind by the victims of the drug war in Payatas B, Quezon City. He said majority of the families, then, resort to hiding.

As of October 2017, all anti-drugs operations led by the PNP have been suspended. Oplan Tokhang and Operation Double Barrel have been put to a stop. All efforts for the drug war has been designated now to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA). Under this department, barangay officials will continue door-to-door visitations, similar to the PNP’s Oplan Tokhang procedure, only that barangay officials will not be carrying arms.

Despite this reassignment, PNP’s Drug Enforcement Group, the national operational support unit that leads the police anti-drug operations, still remains. People on the streets continue to get killed.

With over 12,000 Filipinos dead according to the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates, the drug war campaign continues.