Instead of humiliating drug users and pushers, officials of Barangay Ermita in Cebu City, tagged by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency in Central Visayas (PDEA-7) as one of the drug hot spots in the city, have turned to a “positive approach” in the war against illegal drugs.
Accompanied by some barangay employees, Ermita Barangay Captain Felicisimo Rupinta on Thursday attached tarpaulins on houses that were identified by village officials as “drug-free.”
About 2,000 houses in the barangay are set to get the tarpaulins with a statement that reads, “This house is a drug-free home,” said Rupinta in an interview.
As of 5 p.m. on Thursday, about a hundred houses were marked with the signage.
“So far, our validation shows that only around 300 houses will not receive the drug-free tarpaulins,” said Rupinta.
Rupinta’s anti-drug campaign came just months since he, along with all seven councilors of the barangay, had been suspended for six months by the Office of the Ombudsman starting last February for failure to cooperate with the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) during a drug raid in Ermita in November 2016.
Rupinta said that the “drug-free” list was validated by community leaders and organizations, including the village’s Barangay Anti-Drug Abuse Council (Badac), barangay officials, barangay tanods (village watchmen) and members of the Daughters of Mary Immaculate, a Catholic religious organization that conducts outreach activities in the area.
“Ang atong tuyo dinhi, dili man aron pagpakauwaw. Gusto lang nato ipahibaw nga kining dunay mga signages, mao kadtong wala nahilambigit sa illegal nga droga (Our aim in having this kind of campaign is not to humiliate anyone. I just want people to know that those with signages are the people who are not involved in illegal drugs),” he said.
Rupinta was confident that he had not done anything illegal by implementing the program.
“This is different from what was done in Barangay Pajo, Lapu-Lapu City,” he said, referring to the shame campaign wherein village officials spray-painted the homes of suspected drug users and pushers.
“There is nothing illegal in what I am doing. Ang kadtong walay nakabutang nga drug-free signages dinhi sa Ermita, aw kamo na lay sabot nganong wala butangi (Those houses in Ermita that do not have any drug-free signages, it is up to you to conclude why they don’t have it),” he added.
While he supports any campaign to get rid of illegal drugs, Arvin Odron, director of the Commission on Human Rights in Central Visayas (CHR-7), has some reservations over the scheme implemented in Barangay Ermita.
“The CHR is always supportive of the government’s campaign in combating the possible dangers brought about by the use, sale, production, and distribution of illegal drugs in the country. (But) the CHR expresses concern over some local government units resorting to posting of ‘drug-free home’ stickers through the peace and order council at the barangay level,” he said in a text message to Cebu Daily News.
Odron said the CHR feared that the manner with which local leaders are pursuing personalities involved in illegal drugs may be violating the rights of residents.
“Residents of a house with no ‘drug-free’ stickers may be unduly discriminated and/or tagged as drug-users or pushers without due process of law guaranteed by the constitution. This also violates the right of any person to be heard before he or she is condemned. A person’s honor as well as reputation of his or her family would also be harmed,” he said.
Odron called on all local government units (LGUs) and entities to make sure their program does not violate human rights.
“The CHR is hopeful that the national government, including the LGUs, will continue to re-examine its anti-drugs campaign and adopt a strategic and comprehensive, but human rights-based approach,” he said.
Rupinta said he will hold a meeting with those not included in the drug-free list on Saturday to explain to them the program.
“I will let them understand why. I’m hoping that later on, they too will do their part so they will also get those drug-free signages,” he said.
For those who would get the “drug-free” signages, Rupinta advised them not to be complacent.
“If I find out that they will be involved in illegal drugs, I will remove the signages from their homes,” he said.
Rupinta explained it took them a month to come up with the list of families who would receive the “drug-free” signages.
“It’s a long process, so to speak,” he said.
Before carrying out the program, Rupinta said he sent letters to Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña and PDEA-7 to inform them about it. But there has been no response from the mayor and PDEA-7, he said.
“I simply informed them. But I don’t have to wait for their response,” he said. “What I am doing is to prove that I am serious in the campaign against illegal drugs. I am not a drug protector as what some people try to portray me.”
Rupinta and seven barangay councilors served a six-month preventive suspension from February to July 2017 on the order of the Office of the Ombudsman. The issue stemmed from a complaint filed by PDEA-7 against the barangay’s officials for allegedly failing to carry out their task in maintaining public order and safety within the barangay.
The issue involved an anti-drug operation by PDEA-7 agents in the barangay on Nov. 6, 2016. They waited for two hours, but no elected public official from the village arrived to assist the anti-narcotics team that raided the drug dens allegedly operated by Richard “Tata” Cañete and Josephine Cuyno Cañete in Sitio Bato, Barangay Ermita.
Belen Busque, one of the residents of Barangay Ermita who received the drug-free signage on Thursday, said they were happy with the recent anti-drugs program of the village.
“Nalipay gyud ko. Maayo ni aron makita sa uban kon kinsa gyud ang wala na-involve sa illegal drugs (I am happy with this program. At least people will know those who are not involved in illegal drugs),” the 52-year-old mother told reporters in an interview.
PDEA-7 spokesperson Earl Rallos said Rupinta had informed them about his anti-drug program in Barangay Ermita.
“He wanted those with drug-free posters to personally convince others to stay away from illegal drugs,” he told CDN. “We don’t have any problem with this program. But we just want to know how they came up with the list of drug-free families,” he added.
Rallos said Barangay Ermita officials did not consult PDEA-7 as to who were those involved in illegal drugs in the village. PDEA-7, he said, would continue to go after residents of Barangay Ermita who were into illegal drugs.
“Those drug-free tarpaulins are not a guarantee that we won’t go after them. Our monitoring continues. Even if they have those tarpaulins, we will still arrest them if they are involved in illegal drugs,” Rallos explained.
“At present, Barangay Ermita is one of the hot spots for illegal drugs in Cebu City,” he added.
Chief Insp. Jacinto Mandal Jr., chief of the Carbon Police Station which has jurisdiction over Barangay Ermita, said they were informed by Rupinta about their anti-drug program in the village.
But the police’s sole role in the posting of drug-free tarpaulins in the village were just to secure the local officials and to continue monitoring all the households.
“We can’t be a hundred percent certain that those with drug-free signages are not involved in illegal drugs. We need to continue monitoring,” Mandal told CDN.
Mandal called on the people to help them in the fight against illegal drugs. “There will be no letup in our campaign against illegal drugs. But we need the cooperation of the people,” he said.