Filipino Police Seek Drug Informants via ‘Drop Boxes’

Want to get rid of your mother-in-law, or a creditor, or just an unpleasant neighbor you don’t like in the Philippines? The Philippine National Police have established public “drop boxes” for informants to anonymously submit the names of alleged drug dealers and users in President Rodrigo Duterte’s murderous drug war, which is thought to have killed more than 10,000 people so far, most of them poor and powerless.

According to the Washington, DC-based NGO Human Rights Watch, the neighborhood informant system was first reported in July in Quezon City, a part of Metro Manila, and has since spread to at least two cities and several towns in two provinces. The police chief of Quezon City said when he launched the system that he would put one drop box in each of the city’s 142 barangays or neighborhoods.

It was a variant of this kind of informant system that police used in Thailand in 2003, when then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra implemented his own drug war. During the next three months, some 2,800 purported drug dealers or users were killed and thousands of others were forced into coercive “treatment” for drug addiction. An official investigation later discovered that more than half of those who had been gunned down had no connection whatsoever to drug dealers. They were people that police or informants wanted dead because of grudges or unfounded suspicions.

In August of 2016, Thailand’s Justice Minister Paiboon Kumchaya told reporters what had long been apparent: that the drug war had been a failure and that drug use had actually increased. Paiboon said his ministry was consulting with relevant agencies over a proposal to exclude ya ba – or methamphetamine, which is known in the Philippines as shabu -- from the list of illegal narcotics. Paiboon claimed medical evidence showed ya ba to be less harmful than alcohol and tobacco – both readily available, socially accepted substances.

More than half of Filipinos now believe that many of those killed by police for resisting arrest in the anti-drug campaign didn’t really fight back, according to the polling organization Social Weather Stations. Incredulity is highest in Metro Manila, the giant conurbation that makes up the nation’s capital. Some 63 percent said they didn’t believe the police. Among the very poor – who have borne the brunt of the drug war – the skepticism is highest, the organization said.

That hasn’t deterred Duterte from continuing his campaign. When accusers said the president’s, own son had been implicated – without proof – in drug smuggling, Duterte said he should be shot if it was true.

“In one sense, the boxes could be called a success,” Human Rights Watch said in a prepared release. “In Roxas City, anonymous informants slipped in the names of 36 of their neighbors in the first two weeks after it opened in late August. Police in the towns of Pontevedra and Maayon in Capiz province have also installed the boxes, and plans are underway for a drop box inside City Hall in Iloilo City. Local authorities have even called on the Catholic Church to install drop boxes in its churches in and around Iloilo City and nearby areas.”

Those whose names end up in the drop boxes are likely to be placed on police drug watch lists, Human Rights said. The Philippine Commission on Human Rights has also criticized the system, citing its potential for fueling arbitrary arrests and raising fears that the drop boxes may well add to the thousands of killings linked to Duterte’s drug war. Human Rights Watch research shows that police drug watch lists are routinely used to identify targets for extrajudicial execution by police or their agents, the organization said.

“After 15 months and untold bloodshed, the government and police should stop their abusive war on drugs and allow an international investigation into the killings, rather than actively seek to increase the number of its victims.”