CEBU CITY — Better safe than sorry.
Fearing that they might be penalized for their actions, officials of Barangay Ermita on Friday afternoon decided to temporarily stop attaching tarpaulin signs on houses identifying them as “drug-free.”
“Moundang usa mi aron safe. Basin unya og ikiha og masuspenso na pud mi ani,” Ermita Barangay Chairman Felicisimo “Imok” Rupinta said.
[We have to stop for now to be safe. Complaints might be filed against us and we are afraid that we will be suspended again.]
Rupinta and all the seven councilors of the barangay were suspended for six months by the Office of the Ombudsman starting last February for failure to cooperate with the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) during a drug raid in November 2016.
Inquirer reminded the village chief about the recent appeal of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to stop posting drug-free tarpaulin signs on houses – a move considered as discriminatory by human rights advocates.
Rupinta said he would talk to Arvin Odron, Central Visayas regional director of the CHR, on Saturday to clarify some issues regarding the anti-drug campaign of the barangay.
Since the campaign started last Thursday, at least 156 houses in Barangay Ermita received tarpaulin sing with a statement reading: “This house is a drug-free home.”
Rupinta said they intended to mark about 2,000 houses in the village with the signs.
In a text message sent to Inquirer on Friday, Odron appealed to Rupinta and other village officials to stop implementing anti-drug schemes that tended to violate human rights.
He said residents of a house with no drug-free tarpaulins might be tagged as drug pushers or users – a violation of the person’s right “to be heard before he or she is condemned.”
“We appeal to them [Ermita elected officials] to stop the practice of positive discrimination as it has impacts and implications on the enjoyment of all persons of their human rights and the right to dignity and to be presumed innocent until their guilt is proven by the proper judicial authorities,” Odron said.
The CHR regional director was hoping that Ermita officials would heed call so that his office would not have to file cases against them.
“We are monitoring government compliance on human rights standards,” he said. “We remind them of their obligation to respect and protect human rights in due and most appropriate time.”
“As of this time, we don’t entertain the idea of initiating a legal case [against Barangay Ermita officials]. That is our last option as much as possible,” he added. “For now, we are gathering vital information with a request to stop the campaign as it appears to be discriminatory.”
Odron said the CHR remained firm in its stand to ensure that any policy of government would not in any way violate the Constitution and other human rights standards.
“After all, human rights are protected by laws and it is the duty of the government to enforce these laws,” he said. “Human rights should be enjoyed by all without discrimination.”
No rights violations
Rupinta stressed, however, that they did not violate human rights in posting drug-free tarpaulin signs on houses in Barangay Ermita.
“Sa among paminaw, wala man gyud mi gidaot ani. Ang amo lang gitinguha mao ang kaayohan sa tanan og aron pagsugpo sa ilegal nga drogas,” he explained.
[We are not destroying reputations of people here. All we’re after of is the good of all residents in Barangay Ermita, and to address the problem on illegal drugs.]
As they implemented the campaign last Thursday, he said two suspected drug pushers in the village approached him to express their intent to surrender.
“They wanted to have those drug-free tarpaulins,” Rupinta said. “I did not immediately believe their claims, so I endorsed them to the police for proper documentation and processing.”
He said illegal drugs had become a serious problem not just in Barangay Ermita, which is tagged by PDEA-7 as one of the drug hot spots in the city, but also in other places.
“Grabe nga nakadaot sa kominidad ang drogas. Tungod kay nadaot naman ang utok, pataka na lang og pamusil,” he said.
[Illegal drugs have destroyed the community. Because their brains are affected, persons hooked in illegal drugs shot anyone without any just cause.]
Ermita’s Barangay Anti-Drug Abuse Council (Badac), officials, tanods, community leaders. and organizations, including members of the Catholic lay group Daughters of Mary Immaculate, validated the list that was used as basis in posting the drug-free tarpaulin signs.
Support from police officials
While the CHR frowns on the program, two top police officials expressed support for Barangay Ermita’s anti-drug scheme.
Chief Supt. Jose Mario Espino, director of the Police Regional Office in Central Visayas, said there was nothing discrimintory in posting drug-free tarpaulins on houses.
“It will even encourage people to get rid of illegal drugs so that their homes would receive those tarpaulins,” he told reporters.
“That is a very good move; a positive approach so to speak. We welcome that. It only shows that they [Barangay Ermita officials] share the responsibility in fighting illegal drugs,” he added.
Senior Supt. Joel Doria, Cebu City Police Office director, shared the same sentiments.
“That is a good program. It would warn people to really stay away from illegal drugs,” he said in a separate interview.
However, Doria reminded residents that drug-free tarpaulin signs would not save them from arrest in case they were found to be involved in illegal drugs.
“Having those tarpaulins does not necessarily means that everything is all right. Our validation and monitoring continue,” he said.
Mayor doubts sincerity of barangay chief
Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña questioned the sincerity of Barangay Ermita officials in implementing a program to fight illegal drugs.
Although a “positive approach” in the war on drugs would be good, Osmeña said Rupinta would not be the right person to do it as there were reports accusing the village chief of being an illegal drug protector.
“Who is he fooling?” Osmeña said in an interview. “He has to prove himself and that would take time. In the meantime, I question whether he is sincere.”
Osmeña said the illegal drug business of suspected drug lord Rowen “Yawa” Secretaria, a resident of Barangay Ermita, thrived under Rupinta’s administration.
Secretaria was killed in a police operation on Banacon Island, Bohol on May 28, 2016.
“Ermita is very notorious for drugs,” Osmeña said. “He [Rupinta] was very supportive when Yawa died. He was suspended because he was deemed a protector. All of a sudden, he is against drugs?”
Rupinta and seven barangay councilors served a six-month preventive suspension from February to July 2017 as ordered by the Office of the Ombudsman.
The issue stemmed from a complaint filed by PDEA-7 against the barangay officials for failing to carry out their task in the maintenance of public order and safety within their area of responsibility in the community.
The PDEA-7 agents waited for two hours during an operation on Nov. 6, 2016, but no elected public official from the village arrived to assist the anti-narcotics team that raided drug dens in Sitio Bato, Barangay Ermita.