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Rodrigo Duterte

Philippine police conducting door-to-door drug testing, despite objections of human rights groups

Rights groups stressed Duterte’s crackdown has overwhelmingly targeted the poor, and those killed were mainly drug users or low-level pushers from families with no resources to challenge official police accounts

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 August, 2017, 7:41pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 August, 2017, 10:28pm

Philippine police were knocking on doors in one of Manila’s poorest neighbourhoods on Wednesday to encourage people to take on-the-spot drug tests, a campaign condemned by rights groups as harassment that could endanger lives.

Carrying drug testing kits, police officers accompanied by community officials were seen by Reuters going to houses asking residents if they were willing to submit urine samples.

Payatas, one of the most populated subdistricts, or barangays, in the capital’s Quezon City neighbourhood, has been identified as a crime-prone area with a serious drug problem. Community leaders said they requested help from police, and testing was voluntary.

Dozens of Payatas residents have died during President Rodrigo Duterte’s ferocious 14-month-old war on drugs, which has killed thousands of Filipinos, many in what critics say are suspicious circumstances.

Residents said more than 300 of the 130,000 people in Payatas were already on a drug “watch list” drawn up last year by community leaders of known addicts.

Our goal is to have a drug-free barangay this year. We only asked the police to help us and we are grateful
Payatas barangay secretary Marlene Ocampo

Barangay watch lists have been drawn up by community leaders to identify those in need of rehabilitation, but activists said some of those who appeared on them have become targets for assassination. The authorities denied the watch lists serve as hit lists.

On Wednesday, some Payatas residents lined up to be tested but the police did not say how many were found clean or to be drug users. Community leaders did not say what would happen to people who tested positive for drug use or to those who refused to be tested.

“Our goal is to have a drug-free barangay this year,” Payatas barangay secretary Marlene Ocampo said, adding the village council agreed to fund and conduct free and voluntary drug testing, which could take four to five months. “We only asked the police to help us and we are grateful. We have more than 133,000 residents.”

She said there were no complaints, and many residents agreed to undergo tests.

“This is also good for us,” said Maria Luisa Valdez, a 37-year-old food vendor. “We are clean. We don’t do drugs so why would be afraid to take the test.”

The head of the National Union of People’s Lawyers, Edre Olalia, said police were on a “fishing expedition” to draw up a list of drug users, and doubted the testing was voluntary.

“It is presumably illegal and unconstitutional on its face especially when it is blanket, involuntarily and arbitrary,” Olalia said. “It violates the right to privacy and against self-incrimination and basic human dignity. It is anti-poor and discriminatory.”

This is also good for us. We are clean. We don’t do drugs so why would be afraid to take the test
Maria Luisa Valdez, food vendor

Human rights groups stressed Duterte’s crackdown had overwhelmingly targeted the poor, and those killed were mainly drug users or low-level pushers from families with no resources to challenge official police accounts.

Quezon City police chief Guillermo Eleazar said the tests were limited to Payatas and police were only helping the community.

“These tests are voluntary,” Eleazar said. “We are not forcing anyone to do it, that is illegal and we will not allow it.”

The drugs war has once again been thrust into the spotlight after more than 90 people were killed last week during coordinated “One-Time, Big-Time” anti-crime operations.

The operations stopped when news broke that a 17-year-old high school student, Kian Loyd Delos Santos, was shot dead by police in a northern suburb of Manila, sparking public anger that prompted Duterte to order the officers be detained and investigated.

Police say Delos Santos was a drug courier who was armed and resisted arrest, but his family insists he had no involvement in narcotics and was murdered in cold blood.