CEBU, Philippines - Cebu Governor Hilario Davide III has supported the plan of the Philippine National Police (PNP) to invite priests or members of religious groups to join in the revived Oplan Tokhang.
With the revival of Oplan Tokhang, PNP Director-General Ronald Dela Rosa also came up with a new scheme asking priests to join their efforts to ensure that there will be no abuses committed when they visit the respective houses of drug suspects.
The priest would help to convince the identified drug users or pushers to change for good.
Davide said the problem on drugs is not only the problem of the police but also of the community.
"Ang impact ana kay everybody is involved sa campaign against illegal drugs, the Church, the community and the police," Davide said, adding that priests or any representative from religious groups can help encourage those pushers or users to surrender.
Davide said that police should choose unit or personnel who can be trusted in doing the campaign considering that the cleansing of ranks within the PNP is still ongoing.
"Pilion gyud ang mga units nga maayo mga tarong, mga kasaligan, dili mapalit dili mabayran, dili user, dili pusher," Davide said.
The Police Regional Office Region (PRO)-7 Police Chief Superintendent Noli Taliño said there will be enforcement units in the province, city and stations and those policemen with good records will be fit to be part of the group.
"Lahat mag-u-undergo ng BI (background information)," he said.
Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña is also in favor of Dela Rosa's plan, telling reporters yesterday that he was not afraid to try different strategies to beat the drug menace.
"It's up to Doria (Senior Superintendent Joel Doria, director of Cebu City Police Office) and Tumulak (Councilor David Tumulak) to figure that out. I have no objections. I'm willing to try anything," he said.
Osmeña could not say yet whether this move is effective, but he emphasized that the revival of Oplan Tokhang is a good decision from President Rodrigo Duterte.
"Yes, because drugs is a grassroots problem. You can't solve it by an executive order or hierarchy or a commander. You have to have movement down to the grassroots level. So participation by the barangay, the police, boy scouts, teachers, everything is good and should move in the grassroots," Osmeña said.
In a separate interview, Tumulak, who chairs the Cebu City Council Committee on Public Order and Safety and is also the deputy mayor over police matters, said the plan of Dela Rosa will have a good effect as far as the operation is concerned.
"Sa spiritual aspect lang daan, dako kaayo na'g ikatabang sa operasyon sa atoang kapolisan. Kay dili man sad nato ikalimod nga duna'y drug dependents, drug users makuyawan sa police labi na'g makakita sa police," he said.
Regarding the security of the priests during the operation, he said they will be safe since Oplan Tokhang is a house-to-house approach.
With this development, Tumulak encourages pastors to also join in the operation so that the campaign will move fast.
He said the new scheme has not yet been executed in the city for there was no formal communication yet from the national office.
The Archdiocese of Cebu will join the police in its subsequent "Operation Tokhang" activity that seeks to persuade drug pushers and users to surrender.
Monsignor Joseph Tan, media liaison officer of the Cebu Archdiocese, said the clergy is willing to join the police in Tokhang activities but they will have to wait for a formal invitation before planning things out.
"Whether the archdiocese will join, it's a big yes. Whether who will be assigned, it would be (Cebu) Archbishop (Jose Palma) to decide," Tan told The FREEMAN yesterday over a phone interview.
Tokhang is a contraction of Cebuano words tuktok (to knock) and hangyo (request).
Operation Tokhang is a brainchild of President Rodrigo Duterte that was implemented when he was still a mayor of Davao City.
When he assumed office last year, the police adopted and implemented "Operation Tokhang" in the country as part of their heightened war on illegal drugs.
The campaign has claimed more than 7,000 lives already, a move that has been widely criticized here in the country and internationally.
In the Operation Tokhang, authorities will have to knock at the doors of drug users and pushers and ask them to surrender.
Palma's secretary, Father Zenon Guanzon, said the prelate is out of town and would be back in Cebu by Thursday.
Speaking on behalf of the Cebu archdiocese, Tan said the clergy is elated by the invitation.
"The government is now seeing the Catholic Church as partners and ally to work side by side with each other for the common good of the people," he said.
However, the archdiocese will have to ask for a formal communication before they can also formally discuss and start planning.
Tan understands that the invitation was not only limited to the Catholic Church but also to the different religions and its denomination.
To note, the Cebu archdiocese is only a part of the Roman Catholic Church; the diocesan clergy also differs from the religious congregations and orders.
Tan said the Cebu archdiocese had been supportive of the present administration since it launched the anti-illegal drug campaign by facilitating a lay-initiated drug recovery program dubbed SuGod, which means "Surrender to God."
This drug recovery and renewal program is aimed to be replicated in other parishes all over Cebu in order to help in responding to the needs of those neglected, such as drug dependents.
Meanwhile, PRO-7 is waiting for an official memorandum from their headquarters after Dela Rosa made his appeal to the clergy.
Taliño said he already gave a directive to the police stations and offices to coordinate with the religious sectors in their respective areas.
Priests and other representatives from religious sectors are welcome to join their operation, according to Taliño, who also said that there is no "police aggression" done during these operations and that they conducted the operations in a proper way.
Taliño believes that the religious sectors can convince identified drug personalities to surrender to authorities.
"Kung available at papayag sila. Puro voluntary naman ito, eh. Imbitahin natin sila kung pwede sila, para sa ganon parang multi-sectoral (ang effort)," he added. — Le Phyllis F. Antojado, Odessa O. Leyson, May B. Miasco and Christell Fatima M. Tudtud/JBB