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This study shows why tokhang is relaunched in Caloocan and proves that

relaunching tokhang is best way to reduce people taking drugs and change their lives.


Less than 50 days into the presidency of Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, serious

concerns are being raised over the hundreds of extrajudicial killings being perpetrated

under the administration’s watch. Some have characterized the situation as a reign of

terror, while Duterte himself has declared: “I don’t care about human rights.” While

purportedly a war against drug dealers and users, the killings not only forgo the rule of

law, but entrench disadvantage among the country’s poor.

Duterte’s inaugural State of the Nation Address reiterated the tough-on-crime

rhetoric that propelled him to electoral victory. To many observers, the speech was in

keeping with the president’s often meandering and contradictory public statements.

Duterte said his administration will ensure that the “rule of law will always prevail,” but

also threatened to put drug offenders “below the ground.” The address was best

understood as a continuation of Duterte’s simplistic notion that fighting crime means killing


As early as 2009, Human Rights Watch documented the activities of vigilantes

dubbed the Davao Death Squad, who murdered suspects with the complicity of local

officials and police in the city in which Duterte served as mayor. These killings were often

perpetrated in broad daylight and the victims were mostly petty criminals, gang members,

and street children.

Fast forward to 2016 and the images of summary executions are again being cast
against a backdrop of poverty, with the victims of Duterte’s latest sanctioned killings once

more coming from the fringes of society. The key factor that has changed is that the so-

called Operation Tokhang (“knock and plead”) is now being conducted on a nationwide


The operation sees police officers visit suspects whose names have been drawn

from lists of drug suspects provided by barangay, or village, officials. These individuals

are compelled to report to their nearby police station, confess their alleged crimes, and

sign declarations pledging to mend their ways. These “surrender ceremonies” are

conducted with much fanfare and media coverage, with participants labeled as offenders

regardless of criminal liability actually being proven.

Duterte has simultaneously sanctioned the killing of suspects who do not

participate in these processes, with the violence carried out by police and vigilante

groups comprising active and retired officers, former communist guerrillas, and even

guns-for-hire. These killings have become known as “cardboard justice,” owing to

suspects’ bodies being adumped alongside signs scrawled with their alleged crimes. In

some cases, individuals had attended a surrender ceremony, yet were still killed.

Affluent areas—whose residents typically consume drugs such as ecstasy and

cocaine rather than the poor man’s shabu, or crystal methamphetamine—are largely

spared from the surrender ceremonies and the killings. Gated communities in Manila, for

example, can provide certification from homeowners’ associations that they are drug-free,

which is enough to dissuade police officers from pursuing Tokhang activities. Rather than

encouraging vigilante justice against them, Duterte has also granted personal audiences

to drug trade figures of higher stature.

The fact that members of the middle and upper classes don’t suffer the

consequences of the war on drugs has been key to these individuals considering the

campaign as adequately restrained and lending it their political support. Unaffected

overseas Filipino workers have also overwhelmingly backed Duterte and his positions,

and have promoted a narrative that only the tough and patriarchal leader can transform

the Philippines into a prosperous country similar to their host countries.

The Tokhang campaign ultimately suffers from assuming that local officials are

trustworthy and that the information they provide is accurate. In fact, officials have

themselves often been indicted for drug offenses, and the system in turn gives many

the discretion to exact retribution on political enemies. The Philippines National Police

Chief has admitted there is “not enough evidence” for most of the suspects called out by

Duterte, and there have been many reported cases of identified names belonging to dead

or even non-existent people.

Even assuming accurate information could be provided, there is a considerable

risk of collateral damage from permitting lethal force against drug offenders. Police

shootouts have suffered from mistaken identification of victims and have also resulted in

the deaths of bystanders.

Though state-sanctioned, the Tokhang operation and the associated killings

clearly contravene Article III of the Philippines’ Bill of Rights, which provides for the

presumption of innocence until proven guilty. While supporters of the violence may claim

short-term gains, it is eroding trust between communities—particularly poorer ones—and

authorities. At worst, it may embolden genuine criminal entities to escalate their own

violence against ordinary citizens and security services alike.

Internationally, Duterte’s dismissive attitude to human rights may see foreign

donors and multinational NGOs withdraw developmental aid to the Philippines. Coupled

with the president’s campaign to reinstate capital punishment, the vigilante killings

undermine Manila’s efforts to save Filipinos on death row in foreign countries. Though

predicated on imposing law and order, Duterte’s campaign is likely to only create

instability at home and abroad.


Franco, J. (n.d.). The Philippines’ War on Drugs. Retrieved from