An investigative report published by The New York Times demonstrates the risk of violence, including death, to law enforcement officers when they forcibly enter homes of suspected criminal elements. “No-knock” raids is a practice that — believe it or not — is allowed by the U.S. judicial system. Armed with the usual warrant of arrest, enforcement teams obtain a court’s permission to enter homes without first announcing themselves.
Which brings us to the Philippines’ “Oplan Tokhang.”
A project of the Philippine National Police (PNP), Oplan Tokhang is a national law enforcement project implemented all over the country under President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. A visayan word, “Tokhang” means to approach and talk. It aims to warn illegal drug traffickers and users to stop their activities, as an alternative to arrest and punishment.
While anti-Duterte groups as well as the news media have focused on drug-related casualties, they have all but ignored the hundreds of thousands of drug users who have voluntarily surrendered as part of Oplan Tokhang.
It is unfortunate enough that these groups have repeatedly quoted misleading statistics (7,000 to date) to justify their criticism of alleged extra-judicial killings. It is, however, more unfortunate that they refuse to give credit to the huge number of surrenderers who have chosen rehabilitation and a return to the fold of law.
The NYT article asks a very important question: is it murder or self-defense when law enforcement officers are killed in the no-knock raids?
Criminal elements or not, people have the right to defend themselves, when there is intrusion into their homes or when their lives and safety are threatened by police officers in an unannounced raid. They have that same right when threatened by civilians.
Corollary to Oplan Tokhang, Duterte has publicly made clear that if police officers are threatened by criminal elements, they have the right to self-defense.
So, whether it is the law enforcers or civilians who are threatened, self-defense is not only a natural recourse, but a lawful alternative.
Of the oft-quoted 7, 000 casualties in the Philippines, an overwhelming bigger number is believed to be perpetrated not by the police but by vigilante elements out to silence those who might implicate them in the illegal drug trade. It could also include deaths unrelated to the war on drugs.
It is ironic that when criminal elements are killed, it is immediately tagged as “extra-judicial.” But when the police are killed defending themselves from violent and resisting criminals or suspects, such cases are summarily ignored.
It is more ironic when U.S. law enforcers are killed by civilians trying to defend themselves from raids that are thought to be intrusions into their homes. Yet, it is a practice that has the stamp of approval of its judicial system.
Perhaps, the U.S. can implement its own Oplan Tokhang to prevent killings — of suspects and law enforcers alike.