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Bato: PNP should have done ‘internal cleansing’ before launching drug war

Four years into President Rodrigo Duterte’s War on Drugs — and three years since the death of Caloocan teen Kian delos Santos — Duterte’s first top cop, then police chief and now senator Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa, admits: the controversial, bloody war should have started with an “internal cleansing,” targeting “scalawag” members of the police.

Dela Rosa, now a senator, told PumaPodcast in a special podcast series on the War on Drugs, that if he had it to do all over again, he would have taken aim at corrupt members and officers of the police first. “Internal war then external war,” he said in the fifth episode of the six-part “Tokhang sa Tokhang” podcast produced by PumaPodcast.

Asked “what [he] would have done differently if [he] could do it all over again,” Dela Rosa said in the podcast:

“Yung embarking the war on drugs right away, right away without ah cleaning our ranks first.”

The former Philippine National Police (PNP) chief popularly known as “Bato” expounded:

“Ang ginawa kasi namin is simultaneous. War on drugs against the yung ah dito sa kwan no. Sa sa mga people na involved talaga sa droga. At the same time, dito sa mga tao sa gobyerno like mga pulis, mga pulitiko na involved sa droga. Sabay. So I think… the best model should be …nilinis muna namin yung hanay namin. Then after that, banat sa labas. Internal cleansing muna, then external war. Internal war to external. Ang ginawa namin kasi sabay-sabay.”

See: PumaPodcast, Tokhang sa Tokhang: Bata! Bata! Pulis! Pulis!, Aug. 14, 2020, listen from 18:14 to 19:04

Dela Rosa said it was a complex and complicate decision, and that ultimately, he also remembers and understands why Oplan Double Barrel had to proceed the way it did. He said government was also mindful to not weaken the police while giving drug syndicates opportunities to flee.

But one clear downside, he acknowledged, was, “ang nangyari medyo alam na natin talaga na may mga nangyari na sinasakyan ng mga mga loko-lokong mga sindikatong mga pulis at mga pulitiko yung ating war on drugs dahil nga nainvolve din sila sa war on drugs. At the same time, they’ll they are involved in the drug syndicates.”

He said there was undeniable abuse and that unfortunately, this tainted the War on Drugs campaign in general. In the “Tokhang sa Tokhang” podcast series, Dela Rosa was also questioned about criticisms that the War on Drugs not only raised questions of police impunity, but more broadly, of lack of due process and regard for human rights.

Dela Rosa was interviewed in February 2020, before government imposed strict quarantine protocols around the Philippines. Tokhang sa Tokhang was launched in July, the fourth year of the War on Drugs. The fifth of what will ultimately be six episodes, Episode 5 — which checks in on the police, PDEA, and children orphaned in violent anti-drug operations — dropped last August 14, two days before the 3rd death anniversary of Kian, the teen who was murdered by members of the Caloocan police force. Three police officers were convicted and sentenced to life in prison in 2018 for Kian’s death, after CCTV footage caught them marching the teen to his final moments and ultimate execution.

Listen to PumaPodcast’s six-part series on the war on drugs “Tokhang sa Tokhang”:

The author is founder, CEO of Puma Public Productions.