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African journalist candid talk with Philippines’ anti -drug police

By Wamoyi M. Mercie   

In the recent past Philippines, the second populous nation after Indonesia within the vast South East Asia has been in the spotlight over extra judicial killings of minors and adults in drug and other related crimes.

The Human Rights Watch, an international human rights organization has since reported over 3,500 deaths of suspected drug users and dealers. The suspects are said to have died at the hands of the police from 1 July 2016 to 26 September 2017 while unidentified hitmen have killed thousands more, bringing the total death toll to more than 12,000. Half of 2016 had recorded less than 80 deaths in the hands of law enforcers.

Two years ago, in a publicly televised speech, President Rodrigo Duterte upon assuming office insisted that the campaign of shoot – to – kill would remain in force until the end of his tenure. Philippine’s 1987 constitution provides for a six-year term.  Apart from approving the arrest and killing of suspected drug users and peddlers, Duterte went as far as to promise the police there would be no repercussions for their actions. His statements and subsequent actions have attracted criticisms from the Western allies with the International Criminal Court early 2018 announcing plans to kick off preliminary investigations on the killings by the police in anti-drug operations.

In the month of July 2018, while in the province of Antique, western Visayas region of the Philippines, four people were killed including a couple with alleged links to the illegal drug trade on early morning of July 20, 2018 in Sibalom.

AfricanQuarters learnt of the bodies of Atila John Villabert, 25 and Nikki Latoga, 20, in a rice paddy.

On July 11, 2018, a jail guard in Antique with alleged links to illegal drugs was also gunned down. By unknown assailants.

Provincial Guard 1 Jonathan Pava, 47, was driving his motorcycle on Cerdeña Street, San Jose town when riding-in-tandem gunmen shot him.

The victim sustained two gunshot injuries on the head and three on the back.

According to police reports, Pava is on the Philippines National Police (PNP) Directorate for Intelligence watch list of illegal drug personality as a high-value target.

He submitted himself through ‘Oplan Tokhang’(Filipino word simply referring to police operation) on March 2, 2017. However, Paya denied any involvement in illegal drug business.

Unfortunately, the killers of such victims are still at large. More of such similar cases are still pending with the police, not only in Antique but also in most Barangays (villages) of the Philippines.

After our interrogation, neither the area residents nor police could divulge on the mysterious killers who in some instances killed and vanished in broad day light.

The mysterious murders and illegal drugs are part of challenges that the former mayor of Antique, Rony L. Molina, now senior Board member continue to grapple with.

Rony L. Molina speaking to AfricanQuarters Correspondent Wamoyi M. Mercie in his office at San Jose de Buenavista.

The widely available and smoked illegal drug in the Philippines is shabu, a cheap form of methamphetamine that is highly addictive. Thousands of users have since surrendered themselves for rehabilitation perhaps for fear of being arrested or killed. After undergoing three to eighteen months rehabilitation process some of the victims still struggle with relapse.

POR John Mark Gonzaga deals with Police Community Relations (PCR) in Antique. In an interview carried out in July 2018 faulted the government’s three months rehabilitation program of inadequacy in transformation of drug victims.

Police Officer John Mark Gonzaga

‘’ In my opinion I feel this three-month training of drug users is not enough to help change an offender. Most of the offenders come and leave with no much change. When they return home in this state they are still a burden.’’

“Katatagan Kontra Droga sa Komunidad” (KKDK) community rehabilitation program was launched in 2016. It involves weekly counseling sessions for drug dependents who want to overcome their addiction.

Reports indicate over 2,000 former drug dependents have graduated from the program.

With the support of counselors, the participants go through 15 modules designed by the Psychological Association of the Philippines to tackle the reasons for their drug use and how to handle cravings, among others.

Each session takes place in barangay health or activity centers and lasts for three hours, while the entire program spans anywhere from three months to 18 months, depending on the participant’s schedule.

Helpless drug victims

On the streets of San Jose, we often spotted two middle aged men roaming in tattered clothing and screaming on top of their voices as a result of adverse effects of consuming shabu. After interrogation, we found out that the duo were once focused professionals, but drugs had cut short their dreams. Neither their families nor close allies were willing to receive them after rehabilitation program. Rejection of such victims is still rife among the Filipinos and some drug dealers end up in criminal activities such as theft, rape among others.

Some eye witnesses accuse the police of killing alleged drug dealers while the police shift the blame to the mysterious assailants.

Police Officer John Mark Gonzaga with AfricanQuarters’ correspondent Mercie Wamoyi

‘’ Some drug users are very dangerous and so what can I do if am found in the crisis? Remember, I have a family to protect. They need me at the end of the day. I cannot risk my life.’’ Gonzaga speaking to African Quarters.

Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency statistics of 2014 recorded 40% of minors arrested for drug possession and drug syndicates use children as drug pushers. Children arrested for drug possession or use are brought to the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

 The Agency is on the lookout on foreigners from Mexico, China and some African nations implicated in the Philippines drug syndicate.

Donah Edwardo/ Media liaison  in the Philippines assisted in translations from Tagalog and other Filipino dialects.

Compiled by Wamoyi M.  M

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