MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang considers the police operations against illegal drugs a “success” with the drug supply in the country cut by as much as 90 percent in just two months.
While acknowledging that the rising number of killings attributed to vigilantes was a “cause for concern,” Malacañang also assured the public that these were being investigated.
Based on a Philippine National Police report last Saturday, 1,466 suspected drug personalities have been killed in PNP operations while 1,490 others were slain by suspected vigilantes since President Duterte assumed power.
Officials claim that most of the drug offenders killed in law enforcement operations fought with the police. More than 16,000 drug suspects have also been arrested while the number of those who surrendered has reached 700,000.
“The police operations have been a success,” Presidential Communications Office Secretary Martin Andanar told government radio station dzRB yesterday.
“But the killings that have something to do with gang wars or internecine since they eliminate each other, of course that is a cause for concern. These do not fall under the ambit of the law,” he added.
Andanar said authorities were investigating the killings, which have drawn condemnation from human rights advocates both here and abroad.
In Zamboanga City, PNP chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa said the relentless drug war has cut down the supply of illegal drugs in the country by up to 90 percent.
“We have severely cut the head of the supply (chain) with the operation in (New) Bilibid (Prison or NBP),” Dela Rosa said in his recent visit in the city.
He said the drug lords detained inside the prison facility used to think NBP was their fortress as nobody from outside could hamper their operations.
Duterte has promised to wage a bloody war against drug traffickers and to suppress the narcotics trade within six months. He also promised to pardon policemen and soldiers who would face cases for carrying out his brutal campaign against illegal drugs.
Duterte’s pronouncements have been criticized by human rights advocates who are worried that his policy could result in summary executions and abusive practices. The United States government has also expressed concern over the killings and has asked Duterte to uphold human rights and the rule of law in his anti-drug operations.
The tough-talking Duterte, however, was unfazed by the comments and even accused his critics of interfering with his drug crackdown. He stressed though that as a lawyer, he knew the limits of his powers and that he would never condone extrajudicial killings.
Duterte is pushing for the revival of death penalty to address the Philippines’ drug problem, which he claimed has reached “epidemic proportions.” According to the President, there are 3.7 million addicts in the country.
“We do not have a death penalty. So who would impose the death penalty? It would be Duterte,” the President told members of the Filipino community in Indonesia last Sept. 9.
The Philippines’ drug problem was one of the topics discussed by Duterte during the recently concluded Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meet in Laos, his first international engagement as president.
“On the illicit drugs trade, I underscored the Philippines’ grave concern over social illness that breeds corruption at the highest levels, tears apart the fabric of our society and the basis of human dignity,” Duterte said in a speech in Davao City upon his arrival from Indonesia where he had a working visit last Friday after the ASEAN and other summits in Laos.
“I said our campaign against illegal drugs will be relentless, and it will be comprehensive, encompassing suppression, prosecution and rehabilitation. All these measures are within the bounds of our laws. I called on greater cooperation in the region, particularly in the capacity building and law enforcement efforts,” he added.
The problem on drugs was also mentioned during Duterte’s bilateral meetings with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc.
Lee cited the need to implement stringent rules against illegal drugs while observing rule of law and due process. Phuc, meanwhile, said the Philippines and Vietnam should step up cooperation against narcotics.
A Malacañang statement also quoted Indonesia’s anti-narcotics chief Budi Waseso as saying that his country would have to implement an anti-drug crackdown similar to that of the Philippines.
“The life of a dealer is meaningless because (he) carries out mass murder. How can we respect that?” Waseso was quoted as saying.
The President and Widodo likewise agreed to cooperate in combating the illicit drug trade, among other transnational crimes.
For his part, Dela Rosa said the supply of illegal drugs started to drop after they clamped down on the NBP with the deployment of the Special Action Force (SAF) commandos and removing all means by the convicted drug lords operating in the prison facility to deal with the outside world.
“They (drug lords) cannot order because they have no cell phones. So there’s no supply coming in and they could not distribute,” Dela Rosa said.
But he said some drug lords were still able to operate in areas like Binondo and big hotels in Manila.
Policing own ranks
The PNP Internal Affairs Service also disclosed yesterday that 141 police personnel who tested positive for illegal drug use would face lifestyle check to further evaluate their integrity.
IAS director general Chief Superintendent Leo Angelo Leuterio said the PNP had filed charges of “grave misconduct due to violation of the anti-drugs law” against the 141 police officers who failed the mandatory drug test conducted in July and August.
“We want to know if their lifestyle falls (within) their income. For instance, how can a rookie policemen drive several cars and send his children to private schools when his income is only coming from his job,” Leuterio said.
Leuterio said the lifestyle check would cover the police officers’ residence, their business and the source of their money.
Leuterio said of the 141, 57 of them were police officer 1, the lowest rank in the PNP, while three were junior officers – one each with a rank of inspector, senior inspector and chief inspector.
The PNP Crime Laboratory has been supervising the series of drug tests being conducted in almost all police regional, provincial, district and station offices across the country.
The PNP said a total of 99,598 personnel of the PNP had completed drug test since July 1, the day Dela Rosa assumed office.
Dela Rosa vowed to cleanse the PNP of scalawags in uniform and regain the respect of the community.
Aside from internal cleansing, Dela Rosa has been implementing a double-barreled strategy by addressing both street pushers and drug lords. - With Cecille Suerte Felipe