The problem with the administration’s war on drugs, as illustrated in the back-to-back fiasco at the Manila police last week, is not just about the thousands of deaths in dirt-poor neighborhoods in key cities around the country. It’s also about the breakdown of the entire criminal justice system at the level of precincts and villages.
A surprise jail visit by human rights lawyers to a Manila police station yielded haunting images of drug suspects cramped in a windowless, secret cell hidden from the public eye by a bookshelf. As if that wasn’t inhuman enough, the detainees said they were being asked to cough up money for their release.
So we have a situation where families of suspected drug users and dealers are not only made to bury their dead, they’re also forced to pay insurance for their living.
The PNP justifies the existence of these cells, because the stations are bursting at the seams with suspects. It’s a situation that cops say is the ultimate proof that they’re doing their jobs.
But what kind of job is it?
A Rappler investigative report last week identified at least one Manila policeman, PO3 Ronald Alvarez, as behind alleged summary executions in Tondo, doing it with impunity and oblivious to consequences.
That eyewitnesses who have everything to lose have courageously come forward to blame a cop for the death of their kin should tell us that we have reached a new phase in this war. It is a phase where victims are getting fed up, where families are finding courage, where other sectors are finding their voice.
The Commission on Human Rights could not have conducted that surprise jail visit at Station 1 without insider information about the hidden cell’s existence. The timing of the visit, on the eve of the ASEAN Summit that Manila hosted, should also tell us that the institution has finally come to terms with the requirements of this new landscape: an aggressive promotion of human rights at the precinct level.
A community that is slowly finding its voice. Human rights workers who are now fighting the battle in the trenches. These are the much-awaited antidote to local police bosses sowing terror among the powerless.
PNP chief Ronald dela Rosa should be wise enough to crack the whip now, lest he finds himself – and the institution he leads – at the mercy of these autonomous units that make a mockery of rules laid down by their desk-bound commanders at headquarters.
The PNP’s skeletons in this drug war, after all, are not just hidden in that now-infamous bookshelf by the office of sacked station commander Superintendent Robert Domingo. We have not seen the worst. – Rappler.com