On Friday September 15th, the Philippine National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) ordered the replacement of the Caloocan City Police Department. Caloocan, the fourth most populous city in the Philippines, is one of sixteen cities that forms the capital of Manila. The 1200-member force is to undergo 45 days of retraining before officers are assigned to different stations. The decision comes in the wake of allegations of misconduct, with members being suspected in the murder and torture of three supposed drug dealers, and others involved in a robbery during a drug raid.
The Phillipine Star notes that the NCRPO chief, Oscar Albayalde, stated that the replacement is a “pre-emptive measure to avoid similar incidents.” The announcement has been largely met with approval by the Philippine public, who have recently engaged in renewed protests over President Rodrigo Duterte’s ‘war on drugs.’
The NCPRO’s decision is to be applauded as it establishes a precedent for acceptable police behaviour. As of August 2017, Al Jazeera estimated that thirteen thousand individuals had died as part of Duterte’s ‘war on drugs.’ It is within this climate of extreme hostility and suspicion that abuses are likely to occur. Philippine Senator Panfilo Lacson encapsulated this notion in a recent statement, noting that a “false perception” regarding the infallibility of policemen had emerged in the wake of the crackdown, with officers not subject to ‘rule of the law,’ but ‘rule of the gun.’ Albayalde’s announcement essentially marks the end of this; developing a system in which police accountability is maintained so as to ensure citizens are adequately protected. In conjunction with increasing safety, the decision will undoubtedly appease activists demanding the end to senseless killings, thus lessening the likelihood of protests and conflict.
Whilst the decision to relieve the department is to be praised, the official action to address the instances of misconduct must also be commended. Al Jazeera reports that the Department of Justice has recently established an investigation into the August death of 17-year-old Kian Delos Santos, founded upon a murder and torture complaint against four Caloocan police officers. Two other officers are also the subject of murder, torture, and planting of evidence complaints in relation to the deaths of 19-year-old Carl Angelo Arnaiz and 14-year-old Reynaldo de Guzman. Whilst the police officers involve purporting that each victim was a drug dealer who threatened violence, emerging evidence, including witness statements and security footage, suggest otherwise. In conjunction with recent CCTV footage capturing thirteen Caloocan police officers robbing a house during a drug raid, the misconduct further exemplifies the inherent flaws within Duterte’s violent drug crackdown.
Fundamentally, the replacement of the Caloocan Police Department is a positive step in encouraging a just crackdown on drugs. That is not to say that Duterte’s campaign will not continue to be bloody – it is, after all, a ‘war.’ However, the NCRPO’s decision, in conjunction with protests and action against police misconduct, highlights increasing public and political opposition to the policy and ultimately, an overwhelming desire for peace.
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