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If Tokhang was already a sensational word in the 1990s, I could have been considered a tokhang survivor.

Tokhang is a term that blends the Visayan words “toktok (knock)” and “hangyo” (persuade) – government forces knocking on the doors of suspected drug pushers and users to urge them to stop engaging in the illicit drug trade.

“Oplan Tokhang” is the controversial flagship anti-drugs program of the Duterte administration where thousands of suspects on the tokhang lists ended up dead, either during police operations or under questionable circumstances.

The “nanlaban” narrative centered on the majority of the victims who were allegedly killed because they fought back and initiated aggression during police operations.

I almost became a tokhang victim myself at the age of  26.

On the evening of August 23, 1997,  I just came from my class from UP College of Law and on my way to the wake of Filipina comfort woman Lola Rosa Henson.

While our car was on halt somewhere in Quezon city, armed men swarmed our car.

One tapped the window on my side (in a tokhang style)  while pointing a  gun at me before opening the door, started searching, and asking me where are the drugs.

As they found none, I was pulled out from our car and was transferred to their vehicle.  They also took my friend’s car along with a female classmate.

What made me feel helpless was the fact that my eyeglasses were misted. Running for safety would have been difficult for me because of the resulting dull vision.

Inside their car, one held me down with his hand pinning my head onto his lap. He also removed my eyeglasses.

As we traveled in a seemingly circuitous route, I felt some cold heavy metal near my head and was sure that it was a gun.  

I thought of jumping out but I realized that even before I could get up and open the door, the man who was holding me could shoot me.

They continued to bombard me with threats. “Huwag kang magulo kung ayaw mong masalvage. Hindi ka namin gagalawin dahil hindi ikaw ang pakay namin. Baka gusto mong patayin ka na rin namin (Don’t fret if you don’t want us to kill you. We won’t hurt you because we are not really after you).

Prayers kept me alive until I was released.

“SIGE, tumakbo ka na ng mabilis at huwag kang lilingon at baka barilin pa kita (Run, Run fast, and don’t turn back or I’ll shoot you).”

To me, words of freedom from the anxiety that any second I would be dumped dead in that highly secluded area somewhere in Barangay Ugong, Valenzuela.

Freedom almost always brings a sense of elation and relief. However, adjusting back to the real world can be just as difficult as abruptly leaving. The trauma kept me afloat for days.

A week later, the same group that kidnapped me was reportedly killed in a  shootout with policemen. They were identified as former cops or military men. Thus, that prompted me to still keep my silence.

From 1993 to 2003, the total incidents of “reported” kidnap cases have been estimated at 1,292, with victims totaling 2,330. That is approximately one kidnap victim every two days.

If the perpetrators were caught alive, they could have been then charged with either (a) kidnapping and serious illegal detention or (b) carnapping.

The essence of the crime of kidnapping is the actual deprivation of the victim’s liberty coupled with the intent of the accused to affect it. The deprivation of a person’s liberty can be committed in different ways.  It is not always necessary that the victim be imprisoned, The second element of the crime of kidnapping is met as long as there is a showing that the victim’s liberty of movement is restricted.  (People v. Borja, G.R. No. 199710, August 02, 2017) Under   Article 267 of the Revised Penal Code, a convicted person shall suffer the penalty of reclusion Perpetua (imprisonment from 20 to 40 years) if threats to kill the victim shall have been made, which they did in my case.

On the other hand, the elements of carnapping as defined and penalized under  R.A. No. 6539 are the following (a) an actual taking of the vehicle; (b) the vehicle belongs to a person other than the offender himself; (c) the taking is without the consent of the owner; or the taking was committed by means of violence against or intimidation of persons, or by using force upon things; and (d) the offender intends to gain from the taking of the vehicle (People v. Bernabe and Garcia, 448 Phil. 269).

The perpetrators could have been punished by imprisonment for not less than thirty (30) years and one (1) day but not more than forty (40) years, because the carnapping, in this case, was committed by means of violence against or intimidation of persons, or force upon things I never knew the real reason behind that incident 24 years ago, but it only showed one thing: abuses of the police and military are not far-fetched.
(Peyups is the monicker of the University of the Philippines. Atty. Dennis R. Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, email, or call 09175025808 or 09088665786).

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