Another preventable misencounter

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    ‘It is in the implementation that we are remiss, and much can be put to light if we can just answer the question of who’s clean and who’s not among our lawmen fighting drugs.’

    THE shootout between policemen and Army troopers in Jolo, Sulu in June last year is still fresh in the nation’s collective memory but here again is another one. Four soldiers died in the Sulu incident, and several cops are now facing criminal charges for what the military called a “rubout.”

    On Commonwealth Ave., Quezon City on February 24, a group of policemen engaged agents of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) in a firefight, resulting in the deaths of two cops, a PDEA agent, a PDEA informer, and the wounding of several lawmen, aside from endangering innocent civilians, considering that the encounter occurred late in the afternoon in a fastfood restaurant near a mall with high pedestrian traffic.

    The record of our security forces in connection with friendly-fire engagements is quite disconcerting: three misencounters in two-and-a-half years. In July, 2018, Army troopers killed six policemen and wounded nine others when they mistook them as New People’s Army rebels in Sta. Rita, Samar.

    President Duterte has reason to be bothered by these developments. And rightly so, because the unnecessary loss of lives on the part of government security forces could have been prevented by a simple coordination mechanism that — in the case of anti-illegal drugs operations — is even provided for by law.

    In calling for an investigation by the House of Representatives on the Quezon City mall incident, Rep. Robert Ace Barbers (NP, Surigao del Norte) and Rep. Precious Hipolito-Castelo (NUP, Quezon City) both want to know how two government teams, both claiming to be legitimate anti-drugs operations, would not know who the enemy and the friend is.

    Barbers said if the buy-bust operation was legitimate, there could be no firefight because there should have been coordination between the two groups as required under Section 86 of Republic Act 9165 before any legitimate anti-drug operation can be carried out. Barbers explained that under this section, the police should properly coordinate with PDEA before even launching the operation.

    There should be less need for a congressional inquiry to determine the adequacy of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 as Castelo proposed because our laws and regulations are sufficient to carry on a fairly successful fight against illegal drugs.

    It is in the implementation that we are remiss, and much can be put to light if we can just answer the question of who’s clean and who’s not among our lawmen fighting drugs.