MANILA >> Philippine policemen on Monday resumed visits to the homes of drug suspects to encourage them to reform, despite an acknowledgement from their chief that corrupt officers have abused the program.
National Police Director-General Ronald dela Rosa said there will be stricter safeguards on the visits and he pledged that the president’s overall anti-drug crackdown will be “less bloody.” He said erring officers would be fired.
President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the national police to desist from involvement in his crackdown on illegal drugs twice last year due to reported abuses by law enforcers. He later allowed them back in drug raids partly because the much smaller Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, which should lead the anti-drug campaign under the law, lacked men and firepower to quell the drug menace.
In the house visits that were resumed Monday, locally called “tokhang” or “knock and plead,” officers knock on the homes of drug suspects and plead that they stop their crimes and return to the fold of the law. It’s the friendlier program under Duterte’s crackdown, although dela Rosa said many of the visits have turned violent when suspects turned hostile.
“What if after knocking, the door opens and grenades are hurled out?” dela Rosa asked. “That has happened in the past so instead of tokhang, there were gunfights.”
“These have happened so we also want to be sure because it’s difficult. We have lost many men but rest assured that we will not start the bloodletting,” he said.
Under the new, more transparent concept, policemen would be vetted and would ask the media, Catholic priests and even accredited human rights groups to accompany them in visits to the homes of drug suspects. Policemen and their officers would be removed from their posts and investigated if they commit transgressions, he said.
Dela Rosa said 352 police have been removed from their posts since he became chief in July 2016, nearly half of them for drug-related offenses. The others were dismissed for kidnapping, murder, extortion and other crimes, he said.
Another 329 were being investigated in an internal purge aimed at cleansing the force of misfits, he said.
Among those dismissed last year was a police officer, who reportedly was caught using methamphetamine in a house. Another officer is being prosecuted for allegedly strangling to death a South Korean man inside the national police camp in the capital after kidnapping the victim for ransom using the cover of an anti-drug operation.
Nearly 4,000 drug suspects have been killed in gunbattles with policemen, according to police officials, since the anti-drug campaign was launched after Duterte rose to power in June 2016. The killings have alarmed human rights groups and Western governments including the United States.
Human rights groups cite a much higher death toll and have accused policemen of committing extrajudicial killings with the backing of Duterte, who has also been accused of masterminding drug killings when he served as mayor of southern Davao city for years. Duterte has denied condoning the illegal killings but has repeatedly threatened drug suspects with death in his speeches.
Defending Duterte, Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said last week that the 3,968 deaths of drug suspects in clashes with the police were part of the more than 80,600 police anti-drug operations from the time Duterte took office until last November.
At least 119,023 drug suspects were arrested in those operations, Cayetano said, adding that at least 86 police officers and soldiers have been killed and 226 others wounded “when drug personalities chose to fight back.”