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The Duterte peace & order agenda: The road to achieving ‘crime–free’ Baguio
by Rimaliza Opiña

WAR ON DRUGS — The government’s all-out war on drugs has significantly decreased the crime volume in the city in July according to the Baguio City Police Office. Here, Scene of the Crime Operatives and the Department of Justice conduct an inventory of the pieces of evidence gathered at the crime scene where two alleged drug offenders were killed in a police operation in Baguio last July. -- Harley Palangchao

Seventy-five-year-old Florentino is a long time resident of Baguio. Now retired and living with one of his children, he said Baguio indeed was paradise. Its development patterned after one of the rising urban centers in America at the time, he said the city was idyllic – its first inha-bitants blending well with people who found the place as their “little America.”

He said crimes were isolated or even unheard of in Baguio then. Every resident followed rules that prohibited spitting, jaywalking, littering, or urinating in any available space.

But things are different now. From petty to heinous crimes, street brawls and syndicated crime, name it, all these are happening in our city.

Councilor Roberto “Bungo” Ortega vividly remembers that during his stint as chief of police, syndicated crimes were rampant. Drugs, theft, and robbery – the most common crimes then and even now, have found their way in Baguio because of the flourishing tourism industry.

He said crime had gone so bad that in order to bring back peace and order, he thought an iron hand was necessary.

“There were 300 hoodlums in Baguio during my time. Maybe there’s more now,” Ortega said admitting that like the orders of President Rodrigo Duterte to the national police command, he issued “shoot to kill” orders against persons who are known to be involved in criminal activities.

Ortega’s style of resorting to the extreme to end criminal activities earned him the nickname “Bungo.” It is also said that this reputation was his ticket to entering politics.

The path to a peaceful Baguio

The Duterte administration’s no-nonsense stance in eradicating crime, while frowned upon by advocates adhering to the full observance of human rights of suspected criminals, has gained popularity among people who seem to have lost faith in the legal procedures established to punish offenders.

Baguio City Police Office chief, C/Supt. George Daskeo, said with the police force having high morale over the support they are getting from the President, the city police have embarked on a mission that although ambitious, is attainable.

Daskeo said even with his limited tour of duty, he wants that under the current administration, a truly peaceful and orderly Baguio will be achieved.

“We are not being pressured by our director general. The goal to rid Baguio of crimes is my commitment as a resident. I want to bring back that sense of security during Baguio’s heydays,” Daskeo said.

Anti-crime measures of the BCPO include the Oplan Double Barrel – the anti-illegal drugs campaign where identified protectors or financiers of drug syndicates are neutralized; Oplan Agila – an inter-agency anti-crime campaign; and Oplan Tokhang – a strategy to stop illegal drug use by engaging identified users or pushers to submit themselves to the police, sign an undertaking and undergo voluntary drug rehabilitation.

The police chief said shortly after President Duterte took his oath, crime levels in Baguio started to decrease.

From an average of 91 focus crimes happening per week, data from the BCPO showed that since July 1, the average number of focus crimes has reached an average of 28 to 30 cases. The number of drug users who signed an undertaking has also been increasing. As of Aug. 11, there are 729 drug users who submitted themselves to authorities.

Focus crimes include murder, homicide, robbery, theft, carnapping, motornapping, and physical injuries.

With the help of stakeholders such as the local government of Baguio, barangay officials, concerned citizens and other agencies, Daskeo said he is expecting the numbers to drop further.

Enforcement and the rule of law

While the anti-crime drive by the BCPO is relatively low key compared to areas where selling and use of illegal drug use is rampant, the Commission on Human Rights has actually embarked on an investigation on the deaths that were reported to have occurred as a result of an encounter between law enforcers and the suspects.

The investigation is conducted nationwide following the CHR’s creation of a national task force that will investigate the circumstances of the deaths in all drug-related cases.

“The CHR is not the enemy. In fact, we only oversee if law enforcers follow procedures,” CHR-CAR Officer-in-Charge Romel Daguimol said in reaction to public perception that the CHR’s insistence on sticking to rules tended to discredit the administration’s war on illegal drugs and other crimes.

Daguimol said if the public is able to read the PNP’s manual on the rules of engagement, it actually is a model that not only ensures protection of the law enforcer, but also protects the rights of a suspect, who, instead of ending up dead, should be given his day in court.

He said summarily killing suspects if indeed done by law enforcers is putting to waste the effort of the people who took pains in crafting their operations manual.

“If they claim that crimes went down, what the CHR knows is that there is an increase in murder and homicide cases, which the police also have to solve,” Daguimol said.

The CHR-CAR is presently investigating 16 cases in the region, half of which occurred in Baguio City.

Daguimol said so far, their investigations are moving slowly. He said the police is coopera-ting by providing details about their operations, but the same cannot be said of the relatives of the suspects.

Their investigations are in fact done motu propio or on their own accord. He said the problem in this procedure is, the evidences and testimonies they gather are limited to accounts coming from police records or other official documents, and from neighbors.

He said the CHR also could not generalize that all operations of the police involved extrajudicial killing. “We cannot be sweeping about it. We need evidence.”

According to Bienvenido Reaño, head of the CHR-CAR Investigation Division, even relatives are hesitant about giving information about their relative. He said this could be because of the embarrassment they feel that a relative is involved in an issue involving illegal drugs.

But the limited information gathered does not necessarily mean that the operations are all legit, based on the police’ claims alone.

Daguimol said even police statements could be evidence of how their operation went. He said if the life the police or any law enforcer is under threat, the procedure is to “lessen the threat,” by using “reasonable force.” He said neutralizing a suspect is resorted to only on extreme conditions. But he qualified, murder is still possible if during an operation, the suspect is outnumbered by law enforcers.

“The primary objective in police operations is to apprehend. If there is a threat, they may neutralize or lessen the threat by, for instance, lessening the mobility of the suspect. But if there are more law enforcers than the suspect, obviously, there was use of superior strength,” Daguimol explained.

Daguimol added there is also a problem in compliance with procedure when in every operation, suspects get killed.

“Kung magpapatuloy ang ganitong mga scenario, ano pa ang silbi ng mga institusyong binuo para litisin ang mga pinaghihinalaan,” Daguimol said but remains hopeful that the police will follow the bible of the PNP – the PNP Patrol Plan 2030.

Patrol Plan 2030 envisions a police that has modern investigative systems, are highly-skilled, competent, reliable, disciplined, and in touch with the community.

Baguio City Prosecutor Elmer Sagsago shares the same view about following procedures. Contrary to claims that the courts are being too technical in hearing illegal drugs cases, he said dismissals are actually due to the law enforcer’s failure to follow the law.

“There are requirements that should be followed,” Sagsago said pointing out that during hearings, pieces of evidence submitted by law enforcers are incomplete, which, in the process, leads to the dismissal of the case.

“We compound the problem when there is not enough evidence on record,” Sagsago pointed out.

He also questioned the terms used by law enforcement agencies the moment they are able to apprehend a suspect. In police reports, “case solved” is often used to describe that a suspect has been arrested. But according to Sagsago, a case is considered “solved” only when there is a conviction.

WAR ON DRUGS — Scene of the Crime Operatives process the site where Joel Nider, 35, was gunned down at 3:30 p.m. of July 21 at the Slaughter Compound. By estimate, almost 30 were killed in the region since July 1. -- Harley Palangchao

What is being done and what else is needed

Daskeo assures his men shall adhere to the rule of law. “We do not whitewash cases. We do not want to fool the public by saying that Baguio is safe, when we see that there are problems on peace and order that has to be addressed.”

Likewise, the BCPO has upgraded its reporting and validation system of records by conducting a weekly comparison of these reports with their crime map.

Daskeo said there is increased police presence on the streets now after he ordered all police stations to refrain from using their television sets. “They are supposed be out on the streets conducting random checks, not watch TV in their offices,” he said.

To prevent the selling of stolen vehicles, he also ordered the Highway Patrol Group to inspect every auto shop and registered car dealers to ensure that each vehicle that are for sale have accompanying documents where ownership of the original owners could be established.

Police personnel have likewise been told to inspect establishments selling second-hand gadgets and appliances. He said each item must be accompanied with a receipt or any identification of the original owner, and a registration from the National Telecommunications Commission, for cellular phones.

He said the aim of attaining a crime free and drug free Baguio is not possible without the cooperation of the community. He suggested that colleges and universities offering Criminology to enhance the curriculum by adding subjects dwelling on police and community relations.

Daskeo said Criminology students should be molded to be disciplined, humble, have good relations with their community, and someone who could not be intimidated when put in a situation where offenders throw their weight around or name drop.

He said he is also hoping that for the next six years, the Crime Laboratory would be modernized so that in place is an integrated ballistic and investigation setup; automated fingerprint detection; and upgrading of blood analysis system.

“The police are well-trained in terms of legwork such as investigation and intelligence gathering, but forensics is also an essential component in crime solution,” Daskeo said.

Daskeo also said police also need more lawyers. The BCPO only has one lawyer who is often tapped in other provinces to assist fellow police officers.

On the part of the LGU, Ortega admits that the administration’s war on drugs has exposed how massive the problem on illegal drug use is, and the solution to it should be holistic.

He the city government has to map out a rehabilitation plan for the self-confessed users and pushers. Otherwise, the undertakings they signed will turn out as mere pieces of paper.

For the BCPO, the road to attaining the utopic “crime-free Baguio,” may be impossible to some but for them, the support they are, and will be getting for the next six years is enough reason for them to carry on with their sworn duties.
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