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Conscientious in Cebu, Bloodless in Bogo: Oplan Pokemon, Tight Cooperation Bring Desirable Results | CMFR

Conscientious in Cebu, Bloodless in Bogo: Oplan Pokemon, Tight Cooperation Bring Desirable Results

Screengrab from GMA Public Affairs’ YouTube channel.

IS IT possible to wage a bloodless war against illegal drugs? Cebu and Bogo City show the way.

 A year into President Rodrigo Duterte’s term, the grim scene of dead bodies night after night has created a new norm in crime reporting: the killing of alleged suspects is an unquestioned MO. The turning of the public mind to accept this strategy as the way to fight drugs could be this administration’s bitter and tragic legacy. Media had tracked the “night shift”and “death count” with courage and resilience. But government was not swayed until public outrage rose, provoked by the deaths of children and minors.

CMFR cheers several media organizations for reporting out of the box, searching for possible counter narratives.

Award-winning TV journalist Howie Severino’s documentary “Oplan Pokemon” (GMA-7’s public affairs program I-Witness aired on September 23) showed how the PNP in the cities of Cebu and Bogo chose to do it differently. PNP statistics in Cebu show that 14 died in police operations from July 1, 2016 to September 14, 2017. In Bogo, 97.8 kilometers north of Cebu City, zero deaths were recorded for the same time period.

Tight local and institutional cooperation paved the way for the success of local strategy.

City Police Chief Sr. Supt. Joel Doria, a former chief of Pasay City, strongly believes in the need to engage the community. “Sila (locals) ang source ng info, katuwang natin ang community, ang barangay officials and media,” (They are the source of information, the community, barangay officials and media are our partners), he said. As the community saw suspects alive at the end of police operations, Doria said they got more intel tips.

Under Doria’s leadership, the police launched Oplan Pokemon in September 2016. Pokemon stands for the Pakigbatukan Og sumpoon ang Krimen og ang Epekto sa illegal nga drogas nga Makadaut Og makaugba sa Nasod (Fight and eradicate crime and the effect of illegal drugs damaging the country). A variation of the “one-time, big time”, police operations include community visits and setting up surprise checkpoints.

Atty. Arvin Odron, CHR Regional Director, talked about the good working relationship between CHR and law enforcement agencies. Doria had asked CHR to conduct refresher seminars on what should and shouldn’t be done during operations, to observe human rights.

Kakaiba ang human rights situation sa Cebu because of the partnership with law enforcement,” (The human rights situation in Cebu is different because of the partnerships with law enforcement agencies) Odron said. He considers the police, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the military as “partners in the promotion and protection of human rights.”

Footage confirmed a key ingredient that sets Oplan Pokemon apart from its better known counterpart: human rights is part of the police drill.  Police conduct weekly meetings to familiarize themselves about profiles of targets, the rules of engagement and strict observance of human rights. Severino joined a SWAT team’s operation in a barangay and witnessed a peaceful sweep, with the team arresting the targets and confiscating shabu and drug paraphernalia.

Severino also spoke to PO3 Mary Joy Ylanan of the Bogo City Police Station who said that all the users and pushers are all accounted for. They also tapped the communities to participate. “Mismong barangay kumikilos, nakikiusap si hepe na ganito yung gagawin natin para walang ma-ano nating casualty. I-save natin yung life, ‘pag makikinig sila sa atin sa pakikiusap natin, bakit kailangan pa tayong gumamit ng dahas?” (Even the barangay participates; the chief speaks to them and tells them what to do in order to avoid casualties. We should save lives. If they listen to us, then there will be no need for violence.) Ylanan said.

Before long, Oplan Pokemon showed results and has been touted as an effective approach; 4,816 drug personalities were caught from 3,105 operations with no human rights violations reported. Bogo City was declared as drug-free by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) in May 2017.

Other media organizations also ran stories on the successful strategy. Rappler’s “In Cebu, cops turn to CHR, ‘Project Pokemon’ to keep drug war abuse-free,” recalled an uneasy period for Doria when he was newly installed as the police chief, replacing someone the mayor preferred. Doria shared that Mayor Tomas Osmeña congratulated him for the honor given by the Metrobank Foundation which named him among the Ten Outstanding Filipinos in August 2017.

Reporting on Bogo City’s zero casualty, the Philippine Daily Inquirer published “Bloodless: This cop chief gives pushers, addicts chance to live” where City Police Chief Supt. Byron Allatog, like Doria, engaged the community to earn their confidence and trust. The report included notes about Allatog’s upbringing. “His respect for life may be traced to his parents’ teachings and his roots as a member of the Bontoc tribe of Mountain Province. Anyone who kills another human being, he said, must offer prayers and three pigs to atone for this sin in a ritual called “chaw-es,” the report shared. (See also: “Bogo City achieves drug-free status with zero results”)

The two cities have shown the way. Indeed, the drug war is not a battle fought on just one front. Hopefully, PDEA’s takeover on the drug war from the PNP will follow with its own fresh perspectives. (See: A Game of Musical Chairs: Drug War Back to PDEA)