Opposition senators: Change of lead agency not enough; shift drug policy, too

MANILA, Philippines — The recent designation of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency as the lead implementing office of the war against drugs was not enough as two opposition senators urged the government to radically overhaul its approach to tackling the Philippines’ narcotics problem.

According to Sen. Risa Hontiveros, the government’s drug war will continue to be bloody and prone to corruption unless it changes its strategy and cleanse its security offices of abusive personnel.

It’s not only the implementers who are at fault in the campaign, Hontiveros said, but also the policy of President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration on the drug war.

READ: Bato: PNP now hands off on drug war

She urged the president to totally stop and scrap the Philippine National Police’s Oplan Double Barrel that has been roundly criticized domestically and internationally for its alleged human rights violations and killings.

She added that this plan was not new as the PDEA had the mandate to push for an efficient law enforcement in the campaign to eradicate narcotics in the first place.

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“However, unless the government’s current anti-drug strategy is radically overhauled and the country’s security forces are thoroughly cleansed of scalawags, whether it is the PDEA or PNP, the anti-drug campaign will continue to be bloody, abusive and prone to corruption,” Hontiveros said in a statement.

Duterte on Tuesday signed a memorandum on October 10 designating the PDEA as the “sole agency” in charge of the war on drugs.

It also directed the PNP, the National Bureau of Investigation, the military, the Bureau of Customs, the Philippine Postal Office and other “ad-hoc drug task force” to leave the campaign’s implementation to the PDEA.

READ: FLAG chair: Order for PDEA to lead drug war confusing

For Sen. Leila De Lima, aside from the drug war and its tactics, the president himself was wrong in his brutal campaign.

“Kaya G. Duterte: tigilan mo na ang kahibangan sa drug war mong ito. Hindi solusyon ang pagpapalit-palit ng mga pasimunong ahensya sa problema sa droga (To Mr. Duterte, stop your obsession with the war on drugs. Changing the campaign’s lead agency will not solve the problem),” she said from a statement in her detention cell in Camp Crame where she is detained on charges that she abated the trade of illegal drugs at the national penitentiary.

She also warned that abuses would not go away with the PDEA leading the campaign.

“As to PDEA, we should also cast wary eyes towards it. It also has its own basket of rotten eggs. There have been reports of corrupt officials and scalawags within their ranks,” De Lima said. “I recall, for example, how Col. Ferdinand Marcelino once revealed about the shenanigans in PDEA while he was detailed there as a special agent.”

She also recalled the testimony of two adolescents from Tuguegarao who witnessed PDEA agents in killing their unarmed father.

De Lima also said that the decision of the president also showed that the drug war “sucks and it sucks big time.”

The detained lawmaker said, ” Not only does this mean that the PNP is doing it all wrong, but that Duterte himself and his whole apparatus of terror and violence are doing it all wrong.”

Sen. Sherwin “Win” Gatchalian opined that the change in the lead agency of the war on drugs could help restore the integrity of the bloody campaign and end its attendant killings.

He said that dishonest and corrupt police officers had taken their toll on the credibility of the PNP in conducting anti-drug operations.

“Ultimately, I believe the president’s decision will put an end to the bloodshed and make the streets safer for everyone, especially our children,” he said.

Now that the PDEA is the lead agency, it is necessary that it is provided with professional anti-drug operatives who can conduct raids with integrity and respect for due process of suspects.

As of March 2017, the agency has only 1,274 agents, and this number has caused concern for PDEA Director General Aaron Aquino over his office’s capacity to pursue the campaign.

According to Hontiveros, the government should implement a “rules-based and modern drug enforcement agency” in fighting the drug problem in the country.

A public health approach to the problem should also be pursued by instituting appropriate village-based programs and services for drug suspects, she said.

The P900 million Oplan Double Barrel budget should also be diverted to the provident fund of police personnel and their capability enhancement program.

Hontiveros said, “I will see to it that the investigation of the cases of extrajudicial killings that happened during the time of PNP-led Tokhang will push through. Just because there is a changing of the guard in the government’s anti-drug campaign doesn’t mean that we’ve also had a change of heart in our pursuit of truth, justice and accountability.”