Oplan Tokhang: The War Against the Poor

“Peace remains as one of my main thrusts in governance. We, in the government, are walking the extra mile in to offer the olive branch of peace to all.” [1]

The words mentioned above is the message that President Rodrigo Duterte stated to the Filipino people. An outsider might say that the Filipino people have a bright future ahead of them if words such as these are to be delivered to them by their own president. However, what has become problematic is that the same person who delivered the message above is the same person who is leading a war against those who are deemed as poor in their own motherland.

It was on July 01, 2016 that a memorandum regarding Oplan Tokhang was presented to the Filipino citizens. This stated the aim of Oplan Tokhang which was to “clear all drug affected barangays across the country, conduct no let up operations against illegal drug personalities, and dismantle drug syndicates”.[2]  This course of action called for the surrender of both drug pushers and drug users with the promise of rehabilitating them and making them an exception from the killings that would be involved in the future. Yet, all of the these seemed to be said just for the sake of appeasing the people.

As of December 2016, an estimate of nearly 6,000 people were killed.[3] As of December 2016, an estimate of nearly 6,000 Filipino citizens were killed by the very people who should be protecting them. As of December 2016, an estimate of nearly 6,000 families were to spend their New Year without their loved ones. The promise of rehabilitation and the exception of being killed were long gone. The war against drugs is far from reaching its limit.

This operation was meant to be a “practical and realistic means of accelerating the drive against illegal drugs in affected barangays”.[4] However, this said ‘practicality’ easily deters the right of a person to live. What is also boggling about this operation is that it seems to be targeting those who are powerless in the eyes of the government. Those who are being targeted are the ones who are poor. Never was there any news about a person from the upper class being killed due to the ongoing war on drugs. It was always the rich being caught, bailed out, and being rehabilitated. In the worst-case scenario, the rich are not even caught by the police. The officials simply look the other way – especially when money and power is involved. This operation has become not as a war on drugs, but as a war against those who are powerless against the corrupt and broken system of the country.

Cardboard boxes. Masking tapes. A gunshot on the head. This “practical” operation has become nothing but a bloody war. It is in this war that the night has become more unsafe for the poor – fearing that they were next on the hit list. It in this war that numerous deaths in the hands of the government filled the newspapers. It is in this war that numerous human rights were and are being violated, with one shining more brightly than the others: The right of a human being to live.

Human rights is universal and inalienable. It is applied to each and every person – starting from the day that they were born. As a member of the United Nations, it is vital for the Philippine government to not only develop friendly relation between states, but also promote social progress, better living, and human rights.

With the unjust and bloody situation of the operation against the war on drugs, many have voiced out their concerns on the numerous victims of the said operation. There have also been casualties that were involved in this war. One of the most prominent voices that was hard in this war was the Commission on Human Rights.

The Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines is “an independent office that was created under the 1987 Philippine Constitution.[5] One of its main functions is to protect and promote human rights in the Philippines. With its aim to institutionalize human rights in the country, this office targets specific sectors. Examples of these sectors include the law enforcement, security and intelligence, and the civil service or the government bureaucracy.[6] Thus, it is only rational for them to speak against the procedure of the government in eradicating the buying and selling of illegal drugs in the Philippines. However, the president thinks otherwise.

The president rationalizes the rampant extrajudicial killings in the country by telling them “Itong mga human rights, mamili ka.Is it the comfort or safety of the population or the lives of criminals?” (These [people who fight for] human rights, choose. Is it the comfort or safety of the population or the lives of criminals?).[7]  In this statement, it is clear that the president is disregarding the lives of the “criminals” that are being killed – creating a boundary between them and those who are not listed as suspects. The statement of the president is a declaration that the lives of those who buy and sell drugs are less of those who do not. The disregard for human life is very clear, and the correct process on how these suspects are brought into justice is clearly disregarded as well.

The issue of using the proper measures in proving that the suspect is guilty is being raised by many as well. The concept that a suspect is innocent until proven guilty is turned into “Guilty until proven otherwise.” The Duterte administration aims to protect the safety of the Filipino citizens and yet, his actions is contradicting his words. The right of a person to the equal protection of the law in this operation is yet to be answered by the current administration. Along with this, the many innocent casualties that were involved such as the death of a 5-year old after being shot along with his father by unknown assailants is being ignored by the administration as well.[8] Not even a comment from the administration was made regarding issues such as these.

As of February 01, 2017, President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the police to stop all operations on his deadly war on drugs.[9] However, this is not due to the many pleas that the Filipino citizens has cried to the administration. This was due to the killing of a South Korean businessman. President Duterte stated that he was embarrassed of the actions of the drug officers who were reported to have “planted evidence and stolen from the people they have killed” which led to the killing of the said businessman. It is deeply disturbing to see that what would stop this war on drugs is not the cries and the many deaths of the Filipino victims of this bloody war, but a death of a foreign personality who was unfortunate enough to have been a victim as well of this operation.

In this war, it is the protector who is the oppressor. In this war, it is the suspects who are the victims. In this war, it is not the death of a citizen that ceased the operation, but the death of a foreigner.

Sources Used:

“Campaign Plan Double Barrel.” Philippine National Police Directorate for Investigation and Detective Managament. July 01, 2016. Accessed February 10, 2017.

“Core Programs and Strategies.” Commission on Human Rights – Philippines. 2016. Accessed February 11, 2017.

“Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” United Nations. Accessed February 10, 2017. http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/index.html.

Corrales, Nestor. “Duterte Blasts CHR Anew.” Inquirer.net. August 24, 2016. Accessed February 09, 2017.

Corrales, Nestor “Duterte Vows ‘safer, comfortable lives’ for Pinoys in Christmas Message” Inquirer.net. December 25, 2016. Accessed February 10, 2017.

Diola, Camille. “How Duterte’s Drug War Can Fail.” Philstar.com. September 19, 2016. Accessed February 08, 2017. http://newslab.philstar.com/war-on-drugs/policy.

Holmes, Oliver. “Philippines President Orders Police to Stop All Anti-Drug Operations.” The Guardian. February 01, 2017. Accessed February 11, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/feb/01/philippines-president-rodrigo-duterte-orders-police-stop-anti-drug-operations.

Ramirez, Robertzon. “Pasay Drug Suspect, 5-Year Old Son Shot Dead.” Yahoo! News. December 15, 2016. Accessed February 11, 2017. https://sg.news.yahoo.com/pasay-drug-suspect-5-old-000000049.html.

Regencia, Ted, and Ali, Mohsin. “Philippines: Death Toll in Duterte’s War on Drugs.” Al Jazeera English. December 15, 2016. Accessed February 08, 2017. http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/interactive/2016/08/philippines-death-toll-duterte-war-drugs-160825115400719.html.

[1] Corrales, Nestor, “Duterte Vows ‘safer, comfortable lives’ for Pinoys in Christmas Message”, Inquirer.net, December 25, 2016 (accessed February 10, 2017).

[2] “Campaign Plan Double Barrel”, Philippine National Police Directorate for Investigation and Detective Managament, July 01, 2016 (accessed February 10, 2017).

[3] Regencia, Ted and Ali, Mohsin, “Philippines: Death Toll in Duterte’s War on Drugs.”, Aljazeera, December 15, 2016 (accessed February 08, 2017).

[4] Campaign Plan Double Barrel”, Philippine National Police Directorate for Investigation and Detective Managament, July 01, 2016 (accessed February 10, 2017).

[5] “Core Programs and Strategies” Commission on Human Rights – Philippines, (accessed February 11, 2017).

[6] Ibid.

[7] Corrales, Nestor, “Duterte Blasts CHR Anew”, Inquirer.net, August 24, 2016 (accessed February 18, 2017).

[8] Ramirez, Robertzon, “Pasay Drug Suspect, 5-Year Old Son Shot Dead”, Yahoo! News, December 15, 2016 (accessed February 11, 2017).

[9] Holmes, Oliver, “Philippines President Orders Police to Stop All Anti-Drug Operations”, The Guardian, February 01, 2017 (accessed February 11, 2017).

About Robert Fellner

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