Lapu mayor supports Pajo’s controversial anti-drug program; CHR asks village officials to stop it
A day after the shame campaign was implemented in Barangay Pajo, Lapu-Lapu City, at least 92 drug users and pushers turned themselves over to authorities.
Sixty-two of them went to the Pajo Barangay Hall to surrender, while 25 others yielded to the police.
Their names and other data were recorded before they were allowed to go home.
Pajo Barangay Captain Junard Chan said the road to renewal does not end in just surrendering to the authorities.
He said the surrenderers will undergo spiritual intervention, psychological counseling and physical activities in the barangay.
Chan said the surrenderers would also be given livelihood assistance by the barangay.
“Drug dependents surrendering to authorities must be the effect of our shame campaign. I am happy with their response,” he said.
But the Commission on Human Rights in Central Visayas (CHR-7) was not happy.
The agency asked the Lapu-Lapu police and Pajo officials to end its shame campaign.
“I appeal to them (Pajo barangay officials and the Lapu-Lapu police). For the meantime, stop. Let’s talk. Let us integrate human rights standards and strictly follow the law in implementing such program. We are a government of laws, not of men,” said Arvin Odron, CHR-7 director.
The CHR-7 has started its fact-finding investigation to find out whether or not authorities violated human rights in implementing the shame campaign in Barangay Pajo.
On Monday, the village officials launched its campaign by spray-painting the four doors of an apartment with the message “Identified Drug Den Area” after receiving reports that these were frequented by drug users.
Odron said affected residents who want to file a complaint against their officials over the shame campaign are most welcome.
“If there are formal complaints, the better. In that way, they can really clarify what they want us to look into,” he said.
But Chan was unfazed by CHR-7’s investigation, saying they would continue with the shame campaign as long as the problem of illegal drugs was not solved.
He added it would be better if the CHR investigators would go to his village so they could provide a solution on how to convince drug suspects to change their ways.
A first in Cebu, the scheme was reminiscent of Manila mayor Alfredo Lim’s “shame campaign” in the 1990s that was shot down by Supreme Court as unconstitutional.
The village’s campaign, however, enjoyed the support of Lapu-Lapu City Mayor Paz Radaza.
“For as long as they don’t violate any human rights, I am with them,” she said in a separate interview.
Chief Supt. Jose Mario Espino, director of the Police Regional Office in Central Visayas (PRO-7), shared the same sentiment.
“We look at it both ways. There are advantages and disadvantages. We just have to make sure that initiatives like this will not violate human rights,” he said.
And if CHR-7 finds anything irregular in the implementation of the shame campaign, Espino said he will instruct the Lapu-Lapu City police to stop it and look for other ways to fight illegal drugs.
Senior Supt. Rommel Cabagnot, director of the Lapu-Lapu City Police Office, said the shame campaign is an effective way to curb illegal drugs.
He said they have repeatedly warned drug users and pushers to quit.
But their warning fell on deaf ears, he added.
Odron clarified that the CHR-7 is not against efforts to eradicate illegal drugs — a problem that has hounded the country for some time.
He said the agency just wants to make sure that human rights are upheld in every operation.
“We are supporting the local government and the Philippine National Police in the fight against illegal drugs which have affected our community. But then again, we still need to follow the law,” Odron said.
“We in CHR have the mandate to look into the actions of the government. We have been considered the conscience of the government. And so, we guide the government in all their actions when it comes to human rights,” he said.
He pointed out that the families, relatives and friends of those subjected to the shame campaign would also be affected even if they had nothing to do with illegal drugs.
“This is basically conviction without trial. It’s as if life was taken from them without due process. Human rights, after all, should be applied to all, either suspect or victim,” he said.
The campaign was met with various reactions from some Cebu City and province officials.
Cebu City Councilor Joel Garganera said the shame campaign of Pajo would discourage drug users from visiting areas that had been spray-painted with warnings.
He, however, urged Pajo officials and the police to verify the information relayed to them to spare the innocent from being falsely accused.
He said owners of apartments should help the government in fighting illegal drugs.
“You have to monitor your establishment or your property, and make sure nothing illegal is happening there,” Garganera said.
But for Cebu City Councilor Dave Tumulak, the shame campaign is not the right way to address the illegal drug problem.
“It is prone to pranks. There might be people who will copy the design of the warnings and spray-paint your house. That is unfair. How can you recover from the embarrassment?” he said.
Labeling houses as drug dens, he said, is improper and won’t solve the problem head on.
“I will not encourage that (shame campaign in Cebu City). We would rather suggest or advise them to make another alternative solution,” said Tumulak, the deputy mayor on police matters.
He said persons involved in the illegal drugs trade should be properly identified, and legal operations should be subsequently conducted.
Cebu Provincial Board Member Sun Shimura, on his part, said a shame campaign can be an avenue for authorities to abuse their power.
“That is very unfair. Your house is identified as a drug den or that you are labeled as a drug user even without any court trial. Some people might just feed wrong information to authorities,” he said.
Shimura, whose stepfather and incumbent Daanbantayan town Mayor Vicente Loot was publicly identified as a drug coddler by President Duterte, said it is not easy for families to deal with baseless accusations.
“I don’t want to see my children and the rest of those accused of wrongdoings lose their value just because they are subjected to shame before they were even brought to court,” he said. /with reports from Nestle L. Semilla and Rosalie Abatayo