PHILIPPINE Drug Enforcement Agency chief Aaron Aquino on Thursday assured the public that narcotics agents would respect human rights and would not violate the law, leading to a less bloody war on illegal drugs.
Aquino offered these assurances after President Rodrigo Duterte said the PDEA would be the sole agency in charge of the war on drugs in view of public outrae over alleged police abuses.
For greater transparency, he said, journalists would be invited to join PDEA raids and all agents would be required to wear body cameras.
“You are all welcome. In our operations, the media can join us. You are all welcome,” he added.
According to the PDEA chief, only 28 drug suspects were killed during drug operations since July 1, 2016.
“I can assure the public that these 28 were [all] legitimate operations,” he said.
He acknowledged that from time to time, however, the PDEA might need help from the Philippine National Police because his agency did not have enough people.
The agency has over 1,000 agents out of a workforce of 2,000. The PNP has 190,000 employees.
“Under Republic Act 9165, PDEA can seek assistance from any law enforcement agencies in the conduct of illegal drugs,” Aquino said.
“I know how difficult it is for us. There will be a lot of obstacles and challenges along the way. But I assure the public, we can do it although it would not be that easy.”
PDEA spokesman Derrick Carreon said they will abide by the rule of law, but will not hesitate to defend themselves when the need arises.
“You cannot predict what will happen during operations, but of course, we will follow the marching orders of the President that the drug problem has to be stopped by all means that the law allows. The fight will be relentless and it will be sustained,” he told a television interview.
Aquino vowed to go after high-value targets, particularly big-time drug syndicates and those on Duterte’s list of drug lords and narco-politicians.
Jacqueline de Guia, spokesperson of the Commission on Human Rights, welcomed the President’s move to task PDEA in the anti-drug crackdown.
Duterte on Thursday said he would wait and see how the PDEA performs.
“Well, let’s see. It will be the PDEA only, nobody else [that will take over the war on drugs],” he said in Filipino as he visited Malacañang’s newly renovated press briefing room.
The President said he is no longer interested in having other agencies, such as the PNP, handle his drug war. He said he thought it would be better for PDEA to handle the war on drugs, since the agency has had only two deaths recently.
“So nobody will die… better for the bleeding hearts and the media. I hope I will satisfy you,” he said.
On Wednesday, Duterte indirectly admitted that the administration’s bloody drug war was chaotic and ordered the PDEA to lead efforts to bring order to the administration’s anti-drug efforts.
In a memorandum he signed Oct. 10 (Tuesday) but made public Wednesday, Duterte ordered all concerned government agencies, including the PNP to immediately transfer all case files on the drug campaign to PDEA.
The PDEA, created by virtue of Republic Act No. 9165, is mandated by law to undertake the enforcement of the provisions of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.
While Duterte’s war on drugs had substantial public support, it came under fire from local and international human rights groups, who denounced the killing of more than 7,000 suspects, mostly poor drug users and pushers. Several high-profile deaths of minors in police operations sparked public outrage.
Last year, the PNP’s campaign was put on hold after a South Korean businessman was kidnapped and later found dead—killed by police inside their headquarters in Camp Crame.
Months after the hiatus, the PNP resumed its anti-drug operations with a promise to eliminate rogue cops under “Oplan Double Barrel, Reloaded” — which saw even more deaths, including those of teenagers.
From July 1, 2016 to Sept. 15, 2017, a total of 3,850 drug suspects died in police operations.
The police and administration officials insist that in each case, the suspects fought it out with the arresting officers, a claim that human rights groups question.
The Palace on Thursday claimed success because the street distribution of illegal drugs has already been degraded.
“The street distribution networks of drug lords has already degraded, so we now target higher echelons of the syndicates as well as their protectors in government,” Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said.
He said another sign of success is that the price for illegal drugs has gone up, because they are harder to get.
PNP chief Ronald dela Rosa said he was optimistic that PDEA, despite its limited manpower, can sustain the gains in the anti-drug war.
“I have not hurt feelings, it’s just that I am frustrated that we cannot continue the gains we have achieved the past year,” Dela Rosa said as he urged Filipinos to unite in eradicating illegal drugs since the PNP is out of the game.
“The vacuum the PNP will create in the drug war will serve as a challenge to the community, the local government units, the stakeholders. They must be encouraged to do their share,” he said.
This developed as the PNP hierarchy ordered the suspension of all Project Double Barrel and Oplan Tokhang operations and the immediate dissolution of all drug enforcement units from the regional offices down to the police stations.
PNP spokesman Chief Supt. Dionardo Carlos said police operatives nationwide have been ordered to stop Project Double Barrel and Oplan Tokhang after the PDEA took the lead in the war on drugs.
The PNP Drug Enforcement Group that Dela Rosa created will continue to function, but only as an intelligence gathering group.
“If we get good intelligence, we will pass it on to PDEA,” Dela Rosa said.
Oplan Double Barrel was the PNP’s flagship project in the government’s war on drugs, made up of Oplan High-Value Target, which went after big-time drug sellers, and Oplan TokHang, which went after small-time drug dealers.
As of Oct. 12, the PNP reported the arrest of 1,400 high-value targets, and as of Aug. 29, has captured some 107,000 drug suspects.
The PNP has also confiscated 2,465 kilograms of methamphetamine worth P12.7 billion.
At least 85 policemen and soldiers and some 3,800 drug suspects have died.
PNP spokesman Carlos said the PNP would focus on other crimes, including assassins for hire who ride on motorcycles.
Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III said the P900-million budget for the PNP’s Oplan Tokhang could be removed as a result of the latest development.
“I and Senator Loren [Legarda] talked about it. We still have one month because amendments will be made by Nov. 20 so we will look at what will be done with the budget,” he said.
The Senate leader said they will also check if the PDEA, which will take over the drug war, has sufficient resources for the operation.
Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III said he would recommend that part of the budget be realigned to the PNP Internal Affairs Service.
“They need it badly to be able to strengthen their investigation processes against the PNP personnel. They don’t even have a vehicle,” he said.
Senator Risa Hontieros said she would move to have the budget reallocated to other important programs, such as augmenting the provident fund of rank-and-file police personnel, as well as a program to enhance their capabilities.
She said unless the government’s current anti-drug strategy is radically overhauled and the 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.
Instead of a mere changing of the guard in the government’s anti-drug campaign, what is needed is for Oplan Tokhang to be stopped and scrapped, she said.
Instead, she called for a “rules-based and modern drug law enforcement strategy” to address the country’s drug problem. The authorities must bring the campaign to the big-time drug lords instead of simply targeting the poor.
She noted that the authorities must focus on crimes associated with big drug operations, such as money laundering and extortion.
On Thursday, the Department of the Interior and Local Government said it is willing to drop a program that enables the anonymous reporting of alleged drug dependents and criminals.
During a hearing on the DILG budget for 2018, Hontiveros asked department officials how they could ensure that innocent names would not be put in the PNP drop boxes.
Se warned that the system was prone to malice and abuse and could even lead to unnecessary deaths.
Senator JV Ejercito, who is the sponsor of the DILG’s budget, said the department and the PNP were amenable to shelving the drop box system. With Rio N. Araja