The Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Saturday condemned the “tokhang”-style campaign against insurgency said to be employed in some areas in the country, saying such “is a recipe for more human rights disaster.”
“The Duterte government will wreak even more havoc on human rights with its measure to use what it called ‘tokhang’ or ‘drug war’ methods in its counter-insurgency campaign,” HRW senior researcher Carlos Conde said in a statement.
“This campaign targets personalities the government deems as threats, by accusing them of working with or ‘fronting’ for armed communist insurgents. It involves police and local officials visiting the homes or offices of activists and ‘plead’ with them to stop supporting the communist cause,” he added.
“Tokhang”, derived from the Cebuano words “toktok-hangyo” meaning knock and plead, refers to the Philippine National Police’s Oplan Tokhang, part of the Oplan Double Barrel introduced by then PNP chief Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa in 2016. Under Oplan Tokhang, police officers visit the houses of suspected drug personalities and ask them to mend their ways. Many drug personalities surrendered in ‘tokhang’ operations but there were deaths as some reportedly fought back against state security forces.
“This campaign, which is already happening in places such as the Cordillera region and in Laguna province, is a recipe for more human rights disaster,” Conde said.
“As we’ve seen with the ‘war on drugs’ campaign, where police have killed thousands of suspected drug users because they allegedly fought back, there is reasonable worry that this could happen in this campaign,” he added.
“What’s to stop the authorities from claiming – falsely – that an activist they visited fought back, that’s why he or she was shot? This campaign is fraught with the same problems and issues we’ve seen in the ‘drug war’ – extrajudicial killings, planting of evidence, among others,” Conde said.
The Cordillera Regional Law Enforcement Coordinating Committee (RLECC-CAR) has approved a resolution early this year allowing the conduct of “Oplan Tokhang” against “left-leaning personalities” in the government and media, among other entities.
The RLECC-CAR said in a resolution that Tokhang will be used “to convince left-leaning personalities to return to the folds of the government and dissuade them from further supporting the Marxist-Maoist inspired rebellion, and its known front organizations.”
The Cordillera Regional Peace and Order Council meanwhile this month passed a resolution for the use of the “Dumanun Makituntong” (Seek and Talk) strategy, an alleged “tokhang”-style of operations against communist groups in the region.
The PNP on Wednesday vowed to respect human rights after the council ordered Dumanun Makituntong.
In a statement, PNP chief Police General Guillermo Eleazar expressed appreciation for the “Dumanun Makituntong” (Seek and Talk) plan of the Cordillera Regional Peace and Order Council.
However, he pointed out that they will balance it with the PNP’s commitment to respect human rights.
‘Rescind those issuances’
Conde said “local government units that already issued ordinances to operationalize the campaign should rescind those issuances.”
“This campaign sows fear and restricts the already constrained democratic space in the Philippines. This also exposes the Duterte government’s double talk and lack of sincerity in its promise to improve the human rights situation in the Philippines – a promise that underpins the human rights program it entered into with the UN Human Rights Council and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. These institutions should be alarmed by this measure,” Conde added.
“Human rights defenders, both domestic and international, are already raising a howl over this, as they should. The international community – mainly the UN Human Rights Council, the International Criminal Court, the European Union, the European Parliament, the US Congress, to name a few – should raise their strongest concerns about this ramping up of human rights violations in the Philippines,” he added. —KG, GMA News