Quezon City will implement the use of ‘Oplan Tokhang’ drop box this week to collect anonymous complaints or tips in the pursuit of the government’s war against drugs.
The boxes will be made of bright blue fiberglass boxes and will be distributed to the city’s 142 barangays by the Quezon City Police District (QCPD).
The idea behind the box is not entirely new since Chief Supt. Guillermo Eleazar, QCPD director, said they started urging the barangays to put up drop boxes since July 2016 to gather more tips on illegal drugs and crimes from the residents themselves. However, the design of the boxes was only finalized this September.
At first, each barangay is left to its own devices to design the box, with earlier media reports saying the box was marked with this direct instruction to “drop here names of suspected illegal pushers/users.”
But now, the standard design is a 12-cubic-inch box formally described as the “Oplan Tokhang Suggestions and Complaints Drop Box.” It also carried the logos of the QCPD, the Quezon City government, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, the Department of Interior and Local Government, and the Dangerous Drugs Board.
Eleazar explained that aside from tips about illegal drugs suspects, the boxes are also meant to gather complaints from the residents about any of the QCPD members, who will be investigated if they commit abuses.
The drop box idea was slammed by human rights groups in July over concerns that this crowd-sourcing type of activity may be used to come up with a “hit list” for questionable police operations or vigilante killings.
But the QCPD chief assured that the names they will still validate the information they get from the drop boxes. He emphasized that the boxes were only meant to encourage “community participation,” knowing that the residents themselves are more familiar with their neighborhood.
“The information gathered would only be for case buildup. If we don’t have evidence, we cannot make an arrest,” he said.
Eleazar said that the box is also meant to function like a hotline, but for tipsters who do not have access to cell phones.
Drop box memo
The use of drop boxes was part of DILG’s order for local governments under a program called “Masa Masid” or Mamayang Ayaw sa Anomalya, Mamayang Ayaw sa Droga. DILG issued a memo in August for the revised guidelines of the program, including putting up drop boxes to gather more information about illegal drugs, crime, corruption, and other threats to security and peace.
The same memo also advised local government units on what to do when opening the drop boxes. It should be done in the presence of at least 6 members of a technical working committee at 4 pm every Thursday, reported Inquirer. Only the cop assigned as “focal person” in the barangay will unlock the box, as barangay officials and representatives of the Barangay Anti-Drug Abuse and Advisory Council (BADAC), faith-based groups, the Liga ng mga Barangay, and civil society groups look on. The same people should monitor, segregate, assess, and refer the information to the concerned government agencies.
Lawmakers, groups, netizens react
The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) president Edre Olalia described the program as a “dangerous shortcut” in the war against drugs that may “divide and polarize” the residents due to suspicion and intrigue.
Olalia suggested for the police to continue with “good, old-fashioned police work that is scientific, systematic and credible.”
Akbayan Rep. Tom Villarin echoed the same thoughts.
“If [the] government really wants crimes solved and for it to address the so-called drug menace properly, there is no substitute for objective, science-based, consistent law enforcement and no-nonsense investigation work,” Villarin said.
“Such [a] move is highly questionable and opens up potential human rights violations,” he added.
Senator Risa Hontiveros hit the DILG for proposing the use of drop boxes.
“The individuals whose names are written on pieces of paper could also become vulnerable to threats from vigilante groups. What would stop extrajudicial killers and vigilante groups from breaking the drop boxes and getting the submitted names?” Hontiveros said in a statement.
She threatened to dissolve the Masa Masid program’s P500-million budget as a member of the Senate finance committee
“What we expect from the government is modern, rules-based, and human rights-centric drug law enforcement – not witch-hunting,” Hontiveros added.
Gabriela expressed worry the drop box may only serve to increase the number of victims of Tokhang.
“Dadami ang inosenteng biktima ng pasistang tokhang kung itutuloy ang drop box, bubukas sa abuso at benggatibong pambibintang,” the group tweeted.
Dadami ang inosenteng biktima ng pasistang tokhang kung itutuloy ang drop box, bubukas sa abuso at benggatibong pambibintang
— Gabriela WomensParty (@GabrielaWomenPL) October 4, 2017
CHR Central Visayas chief Leo Villarino raised concerns about the potential ways the drop box can be misused.
“Those who have enemies can use the drop box to antagonize them or tag them as drug personalities in whatever capacity. That’s the difficult thing,” Villarino said.
Former episcopal vicar of the Archdiocese of Cebu Msgr. Esteban Binghay cited the pros and cons of the use of the drop boxes.
“The advantage is those of goodwill can express their opinions. On the other hand, its disadvantage is it can be used for any other purpose,” he said.
“There are always limitations. People can use it for personal reasons,” he added.
Some netizens also took to social media to express their thoughts about the Oplan Tokhang drop boxes.
“The Tokhang drop box reminds me of Effie’s fish bowl for the tributes. Except walang ‘fight to the death’. Death na mismo,” one netizen wrote.
The Tokhang drop box reminds me of Effie’s fish bowl for the tributes. Except walang ‘fight to the death’. Death na mismo. pic.twitter.com/jFds35240K
— John Jerstad (@JohnJerstad) October 10, 2017
Let’s drop the name of the person behind the idea into the drop box, tweeted another.
Who said this idea is foolproof, a netizen asked.
Anyone can drop his or her enemies’ names into the box, said some netizens.
Here are other reactions: