By Chris Ligan, Michelle Joy L. Padayhag, Nestle L. Semilla July 16,2017

Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma celebrates Mass at the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church of the Carmelite Monastery in Barangay Mabolo, Cebu City, as the Carmelite Order celebrates the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel on Sunday, July 16, 2017.

President Rodrigo Duterte’s naming of Cebu as a hot spot for illegal drugs should serve as an eye-opener to Cebuanos for them to set aside differences and jointly work to ensure that such a tag will no longer be attached to Cebu.

Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma, speaking to reporters yesterday, said now is the time for the Cebuano community, the Philippine National Police (PNP) and other drug enforcement authorities and the church to join hands and find solutions to the proliferation of illegal drugs in Cebu.

While he was unsure about the basis of the President in saying that Cebu is an illegal drugs hot spot, he said the fact that it was the President who said it must be taken seriously.

“If it is true, then this is an eye-opener to us — nganong Cebu and if vulnerable ba ta because of easy entry or terms of drugs being sold,” Palma told Cebu Daily News.

The President, speaking during the anniversary of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) in Manila last Wednesday, observed that while drug enforcement authorities in Cebu had made headway in the war against drugs, Cebu remained a “hot spot” for illegal drugs, as it is not only being used as a transshipment point for illegal drugs intended for different parts of the Visayas but also because of the involvement of a number of policemen and locally elected officials in the illicit trade.

Records from the Police Regional Office in Central Visayas (PRO-7) showed that during Mr. Duterte’s first year in office, or from July 1, 2016 to July 4, 2017, at least 9,466 drug suspects have been arrested.

PRO-7 also seized a total of 34,039.49 grams of shabu over the same period, valued at P413.5 million.

But the drug war also claimed the lives of nearly 7,000 persons nationwide. Of this number, 396 were in Central Visayas, more than half of which, or 213, were killed by unknown assailants or suspected to be victims of extrajudicial killings.

Most of the arrests during the period were made when the police implemented “Operation Tokhang,” the controversial anti-drug drive in which policemen knocked on doors of houses of suspected drug users and pushers, herded them into village centers and town halls and made them promise in writing that they would never touch drugs again.

Operation Tokhang was suspended last January after policemen allegedly involved in an extortion racket kidnapped South Korean businessman Jee Ick-joo, killed him right inside Camp Crame, and had his body cremated in a funeral parlor and his ashes flushed down the toilet.

Last March, PNP chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa relaunched the anti-drug campaign as “Oplan Double Barrel, Reloaded,” which he said had been overhauled to eliminate the participation of rogue policemen.

Dela Rosa said the PNP was also aiming to make the drug war to be as “bloodless” as possible, and even urged priests to join local police commanders and barangay officials in the conduct of Oplan Tokhang so they could also help persuade drug users to go to rehabilitation centers.

Palma agreed that the effort of drug enforcers would not be enough without the help of the community and the local government units.

“Anything that is related to drugs is not helping at all in terms of (the) renewal (of) our nation. Anything related (to drugs) is not beneficial to us,” the prelate added.

But even as he urged for more efforts in the fight against drugs, Palma also remained steadfast in his stand against extrajudicial killings.

“We do not change our stand. We feel there is a better way in approaching (the illegal drug) culprits,” Palma added.

Cooperation is important

He instead appealed to everyone to cooperate with the government and the law enforcement agencies and for Cebuanos to participate in anti-drug activities.

Police authorities admitted that illegal drugs remained a big problem in Cebu even though most of the known drug personalities have either been killed or arrested.

Senior Supt. Rommel Cabagnot, the police director of Lapu-Lapu City on Mactan Island, told CDN that in his city alone, they have learned that new drug personalities have emerged in the different barangays to replace those who have been arrested or killed.

He said that most of the source of illegal drugs they confiscated from arrested drug personalities came from Cebu City on the mainland and from the nearby town of Cordova, also located on Mactan Island.

Cabagnot believes that the illegal drugs circulating in Lapu-Lapu City came in by sea because it has been difficult for the drug couriers to get through checkpoints set up by the different police stations in the city.

He hoped that the plan of Mayor Paz Radaza to reactivate the Task Force Kalikasan would reduce the entry of illicit drugs to Mactan Island. The task force will be composed of different government law enforcement agencies and fishersfolk who will be tasked to monitor the activities in the city’s coastal areas.

New players

In Minglanilla town in southern Cebu, the police also have to deal with new drug personalities.

Supt. Dexter Calacar, the town police chief, told CDN that the three drug personalities, including a high-value target, whom they had arrested in Barangays Tungkop and Tunghaan on Saturday night were newly discovered drug personalities.

Their arrests only reinforced their belief that there are new drug players who have taken over the operations of high-value target drug personalities who had been arrested.

For his part, Cebu City Anti-Drug Abuse Council head Paul Clarence Oaminal said that educating the youth at the barangay level remains to be the most effective way to solve the problem of illegal drugs.

He said there will be no more drugs if no one will patronize it. And how to convince people to stop using drugs, he said, is the biggest challenge to drug enforcers and anti-drug advocates.

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