Editorial: Oplan Disiplina: Will it last?

At the height of the pandemic in Cebu City in 2020, armed police and military officers guarded areas that were placed on lockdown. The images of uniformed personnel, some of them in full battle gear, gave an impression that the enemy (which was obviously the invisible-to-the-eye coronavirus) could be killed by bullets. Or was it the people who were the enemy, particularly the “undisciplined” bunch?

In the government’s point of view, the presence of authorities in a locked down area served as its insurance that the health protocols would be observed. Human rights groups saw this as a high-handed approach in managing the pandemic, and there were reports that authorities had committed abuses.

Despite the militarized approach to curbing the Covid-19 pandemic, the numbers of infection did not decrease in dramatic fashion. Putting the blame on Cebuanos’ lack of discipline as reason for the high number of cases at the time was way too simplistic.

On Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022, the first day of Oplan Disiplina begins. The program, a coordination between the Cebu City Government and the city police, strictly implements ordinances that prohibit smoking, spitting and urinating in public places and the indiscriminate throwing of garbage, among others.

Instilling discipline in Cebu City residents and its visitors is a laudable move because some errant people need to be disciplined to teach them a lesson; however, how can authorities assure the public that Oplan Disiplina would be devoid of human rights violations? The police, no doubt, would be supplemented with “force multipliers” or civilians who volunteer to assist law enforcers. Do these civilian volunteers know their limitations?

The Cebu City Government must also ask itself questions for self-reflection. Why are there so many people who smoke, pee, spit and throw garbage in public?

Does the city have public smoking areas (commercial establishments like malls have designated smoking areas)? Does the city have public comfort rooms along the city’s major thoroughfares? Does it have bins where people can throw their waste or spit their gums?

If Cebu City has these features, there could be no need for the implementation of Oplan Disiplina.

How long will Oplan Disiplina last? That is another question.

In 2018, the Police Regional Office (PRO) 7 under General Debold Sinas (before he became the national police chief) set up its discipline zones. Its field units enforced barangay and city ordinances as well as national laws inside the zone. There was a time when the motorcycles owned by low-ranking police officers and civilians that were parked on the sidewalk outside the PRO 7 headquarters along Osmeña Boulevard were impounded.

After Sinas left his Central Visayas post, the discipline zones disappeared.

The government is known for implementing various programs, but it is also notorious for its inconsistency in maintaining these.