By Ador Vincent S. Mayol, Inquirer.net |October 11,2017 - 11:01 PM

DRUGS BUY-BUST operations, like in this photo taken in Sitio Bato, Barangay Ermita, Cebu City on October 9, 2017, will no longer be handled by the police but by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency as ordered by President Rodrigo Duterte in a memorandum he issued on October 10, 2017.


For the second time in nine months, President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) to be the sole agency to conduct all anti-drug operations in the country.

The difference this time, however, was that the order came in the form of a presidential memorandum dated October 10, 2017, which Malacañang released yesterday.

Sidelining the police and other law enforcement agencies, President Duterte said the PDEA must assume full control of his drug war.

The country’s top executive directed the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), the Philippine National Police (PNP), the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), the Bureau of Customs (BOC), the Philippine Postal Office (PPO) and all other agencies to leave to the PDEA the conduct of all anti-drugs campaign.

“All information/data received by the NBI, PNP, AFP, Bureau of Customs, Philippine Postal Office, and all other agencies or any and all ad hoc anti-drug task forces shall forthwith be relayed, delivered, or brought to the attention of the PDEA for its appropriate action,” said President Duterte in his memorandum.

“The PNP shall, at all times, maintain police visibility, as a deterrent to illegal drug activities leaving to the PDEA, however, the conduct of anti-illegal drug operations as aforestated,” he added.

The directive came just as the Duterte administration, particularly the police, has been receiving heavy criticism following the deaths of three teenagers in different drug operations in Caloocan City.

Being out of the drug war, however, only means less work and fewer problems for the PNP, according to its chief, Director General Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa.

“Yes! Hayahay na kami ngayon (Yes, we can relax now),” Dela Rosa told reporters at the Senate, where he went on Wednesday to attend the hearing that tackled the budget of the PNP for 2018.

“You can just imagine, binuhos namin ang lahat, halos 100 percent, ng resources ng PNP for the last year [on the war on drugs]. Eh ’di now we can focus on other crimes, hindi lang drugs, at bawas na rin sa problema namin,” he said.

(You can just imagine, we poured all, almost 100 percent, of the resources of the PNP last year on the war on drugs. So now we can focus on other crimes, not only drugs, and that’s one less problem for us.)

Help is still needed

But while PDEA has been the lead anti-drug law enforcement agency responsible for combating dangerous drugs in the country since 2002, PDEA in Central Visayas intelligence officer and spokesperson Earl Rallos said they also need help from the police and other law enforcement agencies.

“Admittedly, we need other agencies especially that the PDEA has limited manpower,” he told Cebu Daily News over the phone.

“In fact, even if the police are there to also fight illegal drugs, we still have a hard time,” he added.

As part of their security procedure, Rallos said PDEA-7 would not divulge their actual manpower but said the regional office currently has less than a thousand agents and personnel, already including the administrative staff.

He begged off from issuing further statements, saying they still have to wait for instructions from their main office regarding the President’s order.
“We need to have a unified stand on this so we have to wait for the official directives,” Rallos said.

PDEA-7 still has no regular chief after its former regional director Yogi Filemon Ruiz was appointed as chief of the Enforcement and Security Services of the Bureau of Customs last month.

Last January 2017, President Duterte also stripped the police and other law enforcement agencies of their function to conduct anti-drug operations, and mandated the PDEA to take the lead as the Philippine National Police (PNP) focused on cleaning its own ranks after allegations of a highly corrupt police force continued to haunt the organization.

The President also disbanded the PNP Anti-Illegal Drugs Group (AIDG) following the death of Korean businessman Jee Ick-joo at the hands of rogue policemen inside Camp Crame.

Jee was taken from his home in Angeles, Pampanga, on October 18, 2016 by policemen of the PNP–AIDG in the guise of a drug operation. It was later revealed that the businessman was killed inside the police headquarters in Camp Crame on the same day he was abducted.

After a month, however, President Duterte announced that he would allow the police to resume its operations against illegal drugs due to reports of a resurgent narcotics trade during the campaign’s suspension.

Follow the chief’s order

Senior Supt. Joel Doria, director of the Cebu City Police Office, yesterday said they would follow the President’s order but declined to comment further, saying he has yet to receive the official directive from Dela Rosa.

“Mahirap mag-comment sa ngayon. Sa atin lang, kung anong directive ng ating President at ng chief PNP, susunod tayo (It’s hard to comment about it for now. On our part, however, we will follow whatever directive from our President and chief PNP),” he told CDN over the phone.

“If the PDEA was designated to be the sole agency in our campaign against illegal drugs, we have to abide by it. We fully support our President and chief PNP,” he added.

NBI-Central Visayas Director Jose Patricio Bernales Jr. shared the same sentiment.

“We heard about the President’s directive through the news. But we have not received any guidelines yet. Whatever our higher-ups in Manila will say, then we will follow it,” he told Cebu Daily News over the phone.

Leo Villarino, the chief investigator of the Commission on Human Rights in Central Visayas (CHR-7), said the President has the prerogative to choose whom he wanted to lead the anti-drugs operations.

“We can’t question the wisdom of the President. Primarily, the agency which is responsible for conducting anti-drug operations is the PDEA (as mandated under Republic Act 9168 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002). The police and other law enforcement agencies were only tasked to assist the PDEA,” he told CDN.

“We don’t want to venture into the prerogative of the President. But whether anti-drug operations will be conducted by PDEA alone or with the police and NBI, all we want is for them to respect human rights,” he added.

For the record

Since May 2016, shortly after President Duterte assumed the presidency, CHR-7 has been investigating at least 38 cases of alleged extrajudicial killings.

Of the number, six were elevated to the Office of the Ombudsman — all of which involved policemen or operatives of PDEA.

Since the police have reservations in giving the particular names of those who might have shot the victims, Villarino said all members of the operating teams, including their leaders, are impleaded in the complaints filed at the anti-graft office.

Based on the records of the Police Regional Office in Central Visayas (PRO-7), at least 188 drug suspects in the region were killed in alleged shootouts with policemen, while 213 others were gunned down by still-unknown assailants since July 1, 2016.

On the other hand, at least 9,466 drug suspects were arrested in the region over the same period while some 108,742 drug users and pushers surrendered to the authorities at the onset of Oplan Tokhang (toktok hangyo), a police door-to-door anti-drug campaign where suspects are asked to surrender and sign documents renouncing their involvement in illegal drugs, either as a user or a peddler.

Since the war on drugs started, PRO-7 has seized a total of 35,039 grams of shabu (methamphetamine) worth P363.8 million.

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