The government’s “red-tagging” has gone beyond social media as it goes into physical action in the northern Cordillera region, one of the known hotbeds of the five-decade-old Communist insurgency in the country.

Last week, officials from various government agencies in the region gathered and agreed to sign a resolution authorizing security forces to knock on doors of suspected supporters of the Maoist-led rebel forces and dissuade them from cooperating with the guerrillas.

There were no reports that soldiers and police officers have started making the rounds of the poor, remote mountain villages to conduct “tokhang” — a new version of the brutal and bloody war on drugs policy.

More than 6,000 mostly poor people who are suspected to be low, street-level drug peddlers and users have been killed in police anti-illegal drugs operations since July 2016 when President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office.

The police anti-illegal drug operations actually started decades back when Duterte was elected mayor of Davao City. More than 1,400 people died from these operations from late 1980s until 2016, according to a Redemptorist priest from Davao City who documented the killings.

“Tokhang,” a Visayan portmanteau that means knocking on doors and convincing people to reform from their criminal activities, was intended to be a peaceful law enforcement operation. But it has turned ugly, messy and bloody, symbolizing Duterte’s determination to end the illicit drug trade.

In Davao City, illegal drugs remained a big problem even if Duterte was mayor for more than two decades. He was not able to stop the illegal drug trade.

Almost five years in office, Duterte has also failed to end the drug menace as there is growing evidence that some law enforcers have been involved in selling confiscated illegal drugs.

A former national police chief was disgraced after he was linked to the activities of so-called “ninja cops” — rogue police officers involved in criminal activities, particularly illegal drug trading.

Tokhang has failed to end the drug trade. It only resulted in several thousands of deaths. Bodies continued to pile up, but some were innocent, like a school boy from Caloocan City.

“Tokhang” and the brutal “Oplan Double Barrel” miserably failed, as Duterte’s justice secretary admitted last week to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) that police officers had violated their own rules and regulations in carrying out the anti-illegal drug operations.

It took nearly five years for Menardo Guevarra to realize how the national police had totally disregarded basic human rights when officers barged into homes without arrest or search warrants in carrying out anti-illegal drug operations.

They no longer knock on doors. They kick to force open doors and with guns blazing shoot first before asking a suspect to surrender. But in official police reports they will say the suspect resisted arrest and tried to shoot it out — “nanlaban.”

Guevarra’s candid report came hours before a deadly shootout between the members of the Quezon City special operations unit and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency outside a shopping mall at Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City.

A video circulating in social media showed the undercover police officers attacking PDEA agents who were in a car parked outside a fastfood restaurant.

While both sides claimed they were on drug buy-bust operations, the video showed there was no transaction as undercover police officers fired at PDEA agents in the car.

Guevarra’s statements about police violating protocols during sting operations were proven true by the Commonwealth shootout, which the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has started to investigate.

If the anti-illegal drugs “Tokhang” failed as a policy, why would the government adopt a similar scheme to address the insurgency problem?

Is Duterte so desperate to end the Communist rebellion before he steps down from power in June 2022 that his officials have resorted to this failed strategy?

Using the “Tokhang” to fight internal security threats is bad policy. It would only heighten violence in the countryside, alienate the people from the government and even strengthen rebel forces as the government becomes more repressive.

Tokhang in anti-rebel operations could increase human rights abuses even in urban centers as security forces target activists, community organizers, lawyers, journalists and critics of the Duterte administration.

There are peaceful ways to end the Communist rebellion, which has killed more than 40,000 people in the last 52 years. It is wrong to put the security forces at the forefront of the anti-insurgency campaign.

The civilian sector, particularly the local governments all the way down to the barangay level, must be active and present to address social injustice, corruption and inequality.

An absentee local official allows the rebels to fill in the vacuum of power. Good governance can lead to economic growth as foreign and domestic investors would like to put their money in a clean and honest government.

Fidel Ramos showed the country how the Communist Party of the Philippines, National Democratic Front and New People’s Army can be defeated by improving the economy during his term.

The rebels’ strength dwindled to over 5,000 armed guerrillas from a high of 26,000 in the mid-1980s when the economy improved and cut down poverty incidence.

Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Benigno Aquino continued to cut down poverty but the coronavirus pandemic threatened to make more people poor as millions lost jobs and businesses closed because of the prolonged lockdowns.

The best rebel recruiters are not in the University of the Philippines, or in other higher level educational institutions. Duterte and his bad policies are driving the oppressed people toward the rebel groups.

Stop the “tokhang” not only in the anti-illegal drugs operations but also in the counter-insurgency campaign.