QC residents question Oplan Tokhang notice
MANILA — The Quezon City Police District (QCPD) will be revising letters sent to different barangays (villages) and homeowners’ associations regarding meetings to discuss “Oplan Tokhang,” amid concerns raised by residents over the letters’ seeming coercive tone.
A circular from the village office of the Barangay Teachers Village East recently made rounds on social media, after residents cried foul over mandatory attendance to the meeting.
Attend, it said, or face the consequences of cops knocking on your doors — a known part of Tokhang, which meant to knock and plead.
“If you do not attend or send a qualified family representative, then the police team of Operation Tokhang together with Barangay representatives will come knocking at your door,” the letter read.
Some residents have labelled the act “draconian.” Others expressed safety concerns and invasion of privacy.
The fear stems from the alarming results of Duterte administration’s bloody war on drugs, where the deaths already number to around 5,000. While many were killed by vigilantes, thousands were also slain in police operations.
But Senior Supt. Guillermo Lorenzo Eleazar, QCPD director, assured the residents that the police would not really come knocking on doors of those who would fail to attend town hall meetings on the anti-drug campaign. He said the statement was only aimed at making the homeowners take the notice seriously and come to the consultative meetings.
“It was never meant to be a threat in the first place,” he told the Philippine Daily Inquirer. “The suggested template for the letters came from some homeowners’ associations themselves, who voiced out concern that such meetings usually had low turnout.”
Eleazar said the technique of warning residents that Oplan Tokhang would come to their doorstep proved to be effective in some gated subdivisions, where anti-drug meetings drew almost 90 percent of all homeowners.
The QCPD decided to use the same template for others, which the police chief said did not draw any criticisms until now.
Eleazar also said the meetings preceded the modified operation plan just recently rolled out by the Philippine National Police under “Project Double Barrel Alpha.”
With a renewed focus on drug clearing operations, police will now be implementing “Oplan Taphang,” derived from tapok, meaning to gather, and hangyo, to plead.
“Those consultative meetings are actually the modified Tokhang,” he stressed. “We know that we will not get anything from simply knocking on doors, so we talk to them instead. We don’t expect anyone to surrender.”
During the meetings, the police chief speaks with residents and presents the city’s anti-drug programs.
Eleazar said it has been intended to build renewed trust and confidence to the authorities.
Edre Olalia, president of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, urged the police to withdraw the statement and reword it, because of its “coercive tone” that could produce a “terror effect.”
As a lawyer, he said he has received questions from residents: Should we attend? Is this legal?
“Because of the tone, people who are not aware of their basic rights [may have] fear and anxiety,” he said. “They should reword this in a way that it positively encourages people to voluntarily attend.”
Olalia also alluded to the “invitations” of the Armed Forces to critics and journalists during martial law, which were already a form of arrest.
“Under the guise of the drug war, this can be abused,” Olalia said. “We will cooperate with the police, but forcing people is harassment.”
Eleazar maintained that they would respect the rights of the people, and would not come knocking on doors of the absentees, despite the letter saying so.
“If we do knock, it is up to the owner of the house if they will speak to us,” he said. “If they don’t, we cannot do anything.”
He stressed that if they received information on alleged illegal drug involvement, they would still not come knocking.
“We will development information, build a case, apply for search warrants and implement it,” Eleazar said.
The district director said he has already instructed the chief of the district police community relations to coordinate with the different homeowners’ associations through the police station commanders.
“We are giving [the residents] a responsibility to be part of the campaign,” he said. “They should have an open mind to find out how they can support our programs.” SFM
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