Reconcile, if you can, the illogicality of having somebody who once helmed Rodrigo Duterte’s extrajudicial killing sprees being appointed as undersecretary of the cabinet branch tasked to save lives.
The dilemma is not so much about his not being a medical professional as it is on his role in state-sponsored butchery. The part he played in Duterte’s EJKs did not exist by happenstance. A throwback is in order.
On Sept. 1, 2020, Duterte appointed Police Lt. Gen. Camilo Cascolan as chief of the Philippine National Police. For those who had consistently documented Duterte’s war on drugs, the reaction was one of immediate opprobrium. They knew who Cascolan was.
“Cascolan is no stranger to the drug war,” responded Amnesty International Philippines Section Director Butch Olano to the appointment. “As co-author of the murderous strategy behind Oplan Double Barrel, he has played a key role in enabling thousands of unlawful killings at the hands of the police.” Olano decried the appointment, saying it showed the “alarming levels of impunity in the country.”
Vilified by Duterte’s trolls as communists or devil incarnates, human rights observers are our prophets in the wilderness. Now that Cascolan is our deputy surgeon general, whose data of information about him is our source of documentation? Human rights groups. Here’s the most flagrant absurdity surrounding Cascolan – even as Duterte ordered general quarantines during the pandemic’s surge, the killings related to the anti-drug war increased dramatically.
“Police killed 50 percent more people between April and July 2020 than they did in the previous four-month period,” said Carlos Conde, the Philippines researcher for the New York-based Human Rights Watch. HRW analyzed government statistics on the drug war and saw that 155 had been killed during “ostensible drug enforcement raids” in the past four months despite quarantines restricting movement. While poor communities languished in stagnant lockdown conditions enforced by police, the state treated them as sitting ducks, Conde said.
In one small urban poor community in Barangay Pinyahan in Quezon City, nine were executed without due process within the lockdown from July to August 2020. Three men who fired bullets at a former barangay councilman pointed their guns at the people who tried to help him. “So they pumped nine bullets on his body,” related the parish priest Fr. Robert Reyes.
This was the condition of the Duterte drug war that Cascolan immediately inherited upon his assumption as the new PNP chief in September 2020. What did the national police chief do? Ideate what the title of his position means in a democracy – the chief safety officer of the state by means of lawful powers, performing crime certainly not included. Cascolan denied there were EJKs under Duterte.
Interviewed in November 2020, he said over 234,000 police operations were conducted since July 2016, during which more than 357,000 suspects were arrested. “Only 8,000 were killed,” he claimed. His statement was published by Turkey’s Anadolu Agency. The world was taking note of the bloodletting havoc going on in the Philippines.
Yet even as world consciousness was turning against Duterte, his EJK architects continued to lie and hide data. Cascolan did not say that earlier in 2017, Duterte had ordered the PNP not to share case folders with the Commission on Human Rights. The case folders contain police spot, investigation, forensic, and inventory reports of all killings related to the war on drugs, both in and out of police operations.
Under this false veneer, Cascolan naturally had all the confidence to say that, “there was no such thing as extrajudicial killing.” Asked in his first media briefing as PNP chief if Duterte will sponsor state killing, his curt reply was “the answer is no.”
As most national police chiefs Duterte appointed have been linked in one way or the other to the bloodthirsty orgies of the Davao city drug war, it is good to ask how Cascolan came into the world of the Davao city mayor.
He was finance chief of the Davao Region Police Office based in Davao city from 2011 to 2012. Then he served as provincial police chief of Compostela Valley (today Davao de Oro province). When his classmate Bato dela Rosa, Duterte’s fair-haired boy, became PNP chief, his faithful mistah appointed him Director of Operations of the PNP. That was how he became one of the police generals who crafted Operation Tokhang.
And that is how a former cop suspected of being one of the brains of Duterte’s EJKs should have absolutely nothing to do with saving lives as health undersecretary.