Tokhang-style operations, by any other name, should stop

Photo by Jonathan Cellona/ABS-CBN News

“By whatever name, any resolution initiating and driving activities that have the notorious tokhang-style operation in their backbone shall remain a threat to people’s safety and security in Cordillera, and must be widely opposed and junked.”

Thus said rights group Karapatan, as it deplored the adoption of the Cordillera Regional Peace and Order Council of the “Dumanun Makitungtong” strategy on August 23, 2021 which was the subject of a resolution issued by the Regional Law Enforcement Coordinating Committee in the Cordillera Administrative Region (RLECC-CAR) in July, merely replacing the name of “tokhang-style” operations against activists, government critics and other persons wrongly tagged as “communist front organizations” in the region.

“Dropping the word tokhang will not lessen the threats against persons who will be the subject of operations of state forces in the Cordillera, when the nature and character of the operations bear the tokhang imprints. This resolution actually poses greater danger, as it spelled out going to homes of ‘suspected supporters of communist front organizations, which can mean almost anybody can be tagged and listed arbitrarily and without due process,” said Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay.

RLECC-CAR’s Resolution No. 6, called “A Resolution Enjoining the Members of Law Enforcement Agencies Together with the Representatives of LGUs, Religious Sector, and NGOs to Conduct ‘Dumanun Makitungtong’ Strategy to Known Members of Communist Front Organizations (CFOs),” replaces the previous Resolution No. 4, which was discarded after wide opposition and criticism.

“The CRPOC and the RLECC are merely dousing the protests of various sectors in the Cordillera against the tokhang-style operations, and trying to make this dirty war appear more palatable with the new resolution. It won’t relieve them of the fear and terror, as operations under this strategy remain hinged on the policy of targeting persons who are members of progressive organizations, activists and advocates. They cannot deny that those who were dangerously put under the government’s blanket label of ‘communist front organizations’ fell victim to killings, arrests, among other serious rights violations,” Palabay said.

Palabay added that “PNP Chief Guillermo Eleazar’s changing pronouncements, from seeming to discourage the regional body not to use tokhang, to saying it appreciates the resolution, thereby supporting it, also goes to show that they are having a hard time sugarcoating their policies. Their statements to ‘respect human rights’ does not give any relief either, as they continue to go all-out in malicious red-tagging and disrespect of the rights of people.”

“Whether tokhang or ‘dumanun makitungtong,’ the core of these ‘house-to-house visits’ remain, that anybody who is a suspected member or supporter may be listed and subject to such visits. Who knows what can happen in those visits, even if they claim that they will only engage in talking? With a police force set to arrest without warrant, implement questionable search warrants, file trumped-up charges and plant evidence, anything could happen in such visits,” Palabay added.

Karapatan has criticized the RLECC-CAR’s previous resolution, titled “A Resolution Enjoining the Members of Law Enforcement Agencies Together with Representatives of LGUs to Conduct Tokhang to Known Left-Leaning Personalities in the Government, Media and Other Entities,” as a “State-sanctioned incitement of extrajudicial killings against activists, human rights defenders, and government critics which sets a dangerous precedent amid the government’s massive red-tagging campaign.”

“Let us not forget that the committee that issued this was headed by Brigadier General R’win Pagkalinawan, the region’s former police chief, reportedly ordering his men to ‘shoot communist organizers’ in 2020,” said Palabay.

Meanwhile, the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance, Karapatan’s chapter in the region, said in a statement, “These resolutions clearly institutionalize red-tagging and political vilification meant to sow division among the people, to justify human rights violations and political persecution, and to destroy the remaining spaces for legitimate dissent, when dissent itself is the people's utmost obligation against tyranny.”

Karapatan called for heightened vigilance in the issuance of such resolutions in respective regions and provinces.

“As the Duterte administration rushes to employ its war against dissent at the end of this term, it is expected that State forces will be on the loose at preying on everyone they have viciously red-tagged and vilified in the many years they are implementing their military campaigns. We urge the people to resist any kind of threat and harassment, and not fall into the trap of seemingly harmless acts but are really attempts to silence our legitimate voices of dissent and protest,” Palabay ended.