No ‘tokhang’ without warrants but Isko Moreno says ‘drug war’ will continue

MANILA, Philippines — If elected, Aksyon Demokratiko standard-bearer Isko Moreno said that law enforcers under his regime would not be allowed to knock on doors of drug suspects unless armed with a search or arrest warrant.

"As long as there is a search warrant and warrant of arrest. Under the law you can do that any time of the day. As I have said. The 'war on drugs' will continue, then we will recognize the laws that exist and that is what we will implement," Moreno said in mixed Filipino and English in a chance interview with reporters in Pilar, Bataan.

The 47-year-old presidential candidate made the pronouncement when asked if he will continue "Oplan Tokhang" as part of his war against illegal drugs if he becomes president. Moreno has vowed to wage a national anti-drug campaign based on the rule of law and due process.

Under Oplan Tokhang, which translates to knock and plead, authorities visit suspected drug users’ homes and ask them to stop using illegal drugs.

"'Tokhang', however, drew criticisms because of thousands of killings, mostly of small-time users in impoverished areas," Moreno's campaign team wrote in a statement sent to reporters.

But Moreno has been careful to deny that any extrajudicial killings occurred in the city of Manila under his watch. On Thursday, he also claimed that in Manila’s anti-drug campaign, 97% of drug suspects arrested were captured alive because he "does not tolerate extrajudicial killings."

"There are no EJKs in Manila. Unless the suspects threatened the lives of our policemen, the suspects were properly apprehended and that their human rights were respected in the process of the entire drug operations," Moreno said. This is similar to the argument already being used by the police in operations where "drug personalities" are killed.

Official police data acknowledges some 6,100 killings that resulted from anti-drug operations. Rights groups both here and abroad say that the actual death toll may be as high as 30,000.

More than going after users and street-level pushers, Moreno said he will focus government resources to go after the big-time distributors of the illegal substance.

"But for me, the 'war on drugs' will continue. And this is the war on drugs where we do not tolerate the sale of drugs. But the thing is we must go to the source. We’ll go after the source," stressed the Aksyon Demokratiko presidential bet.

Duterte's drug war a success?

Moreno claimed that "while President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war has stopped syndicates from manufacturing illegal drugs in the country…the Philippines remain to be flooded with illegal substances."

This is false. Citing data from the Philippine government, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime found that crystal meth or shabu "remains the main drug of concern in the Philippines, representing the reason for the largest proportion of drug-related arrests and treatment admissions in 2020."

“If it is true that there is no manufacturing here, it means it enters our borders. That is probably part of the smuggling of products into our country. And they enter us, if they used to be able to produce one kilo, only two kilos in a plant, now if they can enter, tons,” Moreno pointed out.

“So, there must be something wrong with our port of entry, whether it is air or water. And remember we are an archipelagic country, and we don’t have enough resources to watch 7,000 islands. So most likely it comes in, and we need to be stricter and more watchful,” said Moreno.

READ: With a year left in Duterte's term, UNODC says shabu still a major problem in the Philippines

Among the things Moreno intends to do to address the issue once elected is to appoint a retired Navy flag officer who has the expertise in guarding the country’s borders and preventing the entry of illegal drugs as Defense secretary.

The Manila city mayor also wants to strengthen the capabilities of the Navy and the Coast Guard in terms of ships, personnel, and firepower to serve both objectives.

Public health approach

At the same time, the Moreno administration will also adopt a public health approach in the drug war to rehabilitate chronic drug dependents and prevent relapses.

“We will take care of drug victims. I mean, health-wise. Doc Willie said it already,” said Moreno.

In an earlier interview, Moreno said he will "not lift a finger" to protect Duterte if he wins the electoral race next year and the International Criminal Court probe into the "drug war" happens during his term. He had also said he will not prevent international probers from coming to the country to look into Duterte’s "drug war."

However, he also later said that if Duterte was guilty, he would not allow him to be charged by foreign courts, saying Duterte would face justice at home.

Aksyon Demokratiko vice presidential candidate Dr. Willie Ong has always maintained that drug dependency is a public health issue and should be thus addressed in a science-based approach.

“Our focus should be science-based. We need to lessen the stigma on users, increase the free medicines because there are medicines to cure or solve addiction,” he said Saturday during CNN Philippines’ Vice Presidential Debate.

"They can't be imprisoned, then come back, they will be addicted again. "The number of psychologists, psychiatrists will be increased and the drugs will be released here," the 58-year-old cardiologist and internist said.

“Eliminating drugs is a priority, but it has to be done in recognition still of every individual’s human rights. I believe that human rights are fundamental and that every person has the right to defend themselves before the courts."

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