Better safe than sorry.
Fearing that they might be penalized for their actions, officials of Barangay Ermita on Friday afternoon decided to temporarily stop attaching tarpaulins on houses that they identified as “drug-free.”
“Moundang usa mi aron safe. Basin unya og ikiha ug masuspenso na pud mi ani (We have to stop for now to be safe. Complaints might be filed against us, and we are afraid that we will be suspended again),” said Ermita Barangay Captain Felicisimo “Imok” Rupinta.
The village chief was referring to the six-month suspension meted against him and all the seven councilors of the barangay by the Office of the Ombudsman starting last February for their failure to cooperate with the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) during a drug raid in November 2016.
The village chief said they decided to suspend the posting of the “This is a drug-free home” labels on houses in his barangay when informed about the recent appeal of the Commission on Human Rights in Central Visayas (CHR-7) for them to stop posting drug-free tarpaulins in houses, as it was a move that could be considered as discriminatory by human rights advocates.
Rupinta said he would talk to CHR-7 Director Arvin Odron today to clarify some issues regarding the village’s anti-drug campaign.
Since the campaign started last Thursday, at least 156 houses in Barangay Ermita had received tarpaulins printed in bold letters with words that read, “This house is a drug-free home.”
Rupinta said they intend to mark about 2,000 in the village with the signage.
In a text message sent to Cebu Daily News on Friday, Odron, however, appealed to Rupinta and other village officials to cease from implementing anti-drug schemes that tend to violate human rights.
He said residents of a house with no drug-free tarpaulins may be tagged as drug pushers or users — a violation of the person’s right “to be heard before he or she is condemned.”
“We appeal to them (Ermita elected officials) to stop the practice of positive discrimination as it has impacts and implications on the enjoyment of all persons of their human rights and the right to dignity and to be presumed innocent until their guilt is proven by the proper judicial authorities,” Odron said.
The CHR-7 chief was hoping that Ermita officials would heed the CHR-7’s call so that it would not have to end in filing cases against them.
“We are monitoring government compliance on human rights standards. We remind them of their obligation to respect and protect human rights in due and most appropriate time,” he said.
“As of this time, we don’t entertain the idea of initiating a legal case (against Barangay Ermita officials). That is our last option as much as possible. For now, we are gathering vital information with a request to stop the campaign as it appears to be discriminatory,” he added.
Odron said the CHR remains firm in its stand to ensure that any policy of the government does not violate the Constitution and human rights standards.
“After all, human rights are protected by laws, and it is the duty of the government to enforce these laws. Human rights should be enjoyed by all without discrimination,” he said.
Rupinta, however, stressed that they have not violated human rights in posting drug-free tarpaulins in houses in Barangay Ermita.
“Sa among paminaw, wala man g’yud mi gidaot ani. Ang amo lang gitinguha mao ang kaayohan sa tanan ug aron pagsugpo sa ilegal nga drogas (We are not destroying reputations of people here. We only want what’s good for everyone and to address the problem on illegal drugs),” he explained.
As they implemented the campaign last Thursday, he said two suspected drug pushers in the village approached him to express their intent to surrender.
“They wanted to have those drug-free tarpaulins. I did not immediately believe their claims, so I endorsed them to the police for proper documentation and processing,” Rupinta said.
He said illegal drugs have become a serious problem not just in Barangay Ermita, which was tagged by PDEA-7 as one of the drug hotspots in the city, but also in other places.
“Grabe nga nakadaot sa komonidad ang drogas. Tungod kay nadaot naman ang utok, pataka na lang og pamusil (Illegal drugs have destroyed the community. Because their brains have been affected, persons hooked on illegal drugs shoot anyone without any just cause),” he said.
The village’s Barangay Anti-Drug Abuse Council (Badac), barangay officials, tanods, community leaders and organizations, including members of the Catholic lay group Daughters of Mary Immaculate, validated the list which was used as basis in posting the drug-free tarpaulins, according to Rupinta.
While the CHR frowned on the program, two top police officials expressed support for Barangay Ermita’s anti-drug scheme.
Chief Supt. Jose Mario Espino, director of the Police Regional Office in Central Visayas, said there was nothing discriminatory in posting drug-free tarpaulins on houses.
“It will even encourage people to get rid of illegal drugs so that their homes would receive those tarpaulins,” he told reporters.
“That is a very good move, a positive approach so to speak. We welcome that. It only shows that they (Barangay Ermita officials) share the responsibility in fighting illegal drugs,” he added.
Senior Supt. Joel Doria, Cebu City Police Office director, shared the same sentiments.
“That is a good program. It would warn people to really stay away from illegal drugs,” he said in a separate interview.
However, Doria reminded residents that drug-free tarpaulins would not save them from arrests in case they are involved in illegal drugs.
“Having those tarpaulins does not necessarily mean that everything is all right. Our validation and monitoring continue,” he said.
Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña, for his part, questioned the sincerity of Barangay Ermita officials in implementing a program to fight illegal drugs.
Although a “positive approach” in the war on drugs is good, Osmeña said Rupinta was not the right person to do it as there were reports that the village chief was an alleged illegal drug protector. Rupinta had been denying the allegation.
“Who is he fooling? He has to prove himself and that would take time. In the meantime, I question whether he is sincere,” Osmeña said in an interview.
Osmeña noted that the illegal drug business of suspected drug lord Rowen “Yawa” Secretaria, a resident of Barangay Ermita, has thrived in the barangay.
Secretaria was killed in a police operation on Banacon Island, Bohol, on May 28, 2016.
“Ermita is very notorious for drugs. He (Rupinta) was very supportive when Yawa died. He was suspended because he was deemed a protector. All of a sudden, he is against drugs?” he said.
Rupinta and seven barangay councilors served a six-month preventive suspension from February to July 2017 as ordered by the Ombudsman.
The issue stemmed from a complaint filed by PDEA-7 against the barangay officials for failing to carry out their task in the maintenance of public order and safety within their area of responsibility in the community.
Then PDEA-7 chief Yogi Filemon Ruiz filed the complaint after his agents waited for two hours during an operation on November 6, 2016, but no elected official from the village arrived to assist the anti-narcotics team that raided drug dens in Sitio Bato, Barangay Ermita.