Recycling of seized drugs still rampant, says PDEA

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    CORRUPT anti-narcotics agents continue to “recycle” seized illegal drugs and sell these in the black market or plant them as evidence during operations, Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) Director General Aaron Aquino yesterday said.

    Aquino made the admission after Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon brought up the issue during the Senate finance committee’s briefing on PDEA’s proposed P2.497-billion budget for 2020.

    Aquino cited reports from assets and other law enforcement agencies regarding the conduct of drug busts. “I guess it’s still rampant… especially [among] operatives down there,” he said.

    Aquino said the agents would only surrender half of the seized illegal drugs and pretend that was all they got.

    “All the other ones are being kept either for future operations, or the worse of it is they sell the drugs,” he added.

    Drilon and Sen. Panfilo Lacson said Aquino’s candid admission that the practice remains “rampant” casts doubt on the effectiveness of President Duterte’s brutal anti-drug campaign.

    Lacson zeroed in on Aquino’s mention of “future operations,” and the official explained: “Pwedeng pam-plant, sir. Pwedeng all other kinds of preparations (The seized drugs can be planted, sir. They can also be used for all other kinds of preparations.”

    Aquino said the PDEA is now pursuing a female drug lord operating in Manila who has been buying “recycled” drugs from law enforcers.

    He, however, refused to disclose her name. “I-neutralize muna namin ang drug queen na ito (We will neutralize this drug queen first),” he told senators.

    Sen. Ronald dela Rosa, who was formerly a PNP director-general and the chief enforcer of Duterte’s anti-drug campaign, bristled at Aquino’s admission of inside jobs.

    Dela Rosa challenged Aquino to produce evidence.

    “In fairness to the PNP, it is doing its best to rid all the scalawags,” said the Duterte ally. “Mahirap puro candor pero wala tayong leg to stand on sa ganoong accusation (It’s hard to only have candor but no leg to stand on regarding these accusations).”

    PNP spokesman Brig. Gen. Bernard Banac said the police organization remains committed in flushing out bad eggs among their ranks.

    “This is the reason why PNP’s campaign on internal cleansing remains relentless and we will not stop until all rogue cops are weeded out and charged in court,” Banac said.

    Banac called on the public to help the PNP fight the bad cops from within the organization by reporting to them wrongdoings of their men.

    Records from the PNP Internal Affairs Service showed there were 71 cops detailed in Camp Crame who were dismissed for various administrative cases from February 2017 to August 2019.

    The IAS said there were also five demoted, and 13 suspended cops during the same period. One hundred ninety-nine administrative cases are still pending before the IAS.

    ‘SERIOUS PROBLEM’

    Lacson stressed the need to address the “festering issue” of the “recycling” of seized drugs, as he noted that the PDEA has P22-billion worth of illegal drugs, of which P20 billion is in the form of the street drug shabu or crystal meth, in its inventory.

    “We have to find a resolution to this festering issue. Social menace ito, hindi lang law enforcement problem (This is not only a law enforcement problem but this already a social menace). If we have P22B worth of drugs seized, P20B of which is shabu and as far back as 9 years ago, we really have a serious problem,” Lacson said.

    He cited Section 21 of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act which states that “after the filing of the criminal case, the Court shall, within seventy-two (72) hours, conduct an ocular inspection of the confiscated, seized and/or surrendered dangerous drugs, plant sources of dangerous drugs, and controlled precursors and essential chemicals, including the instruments/paraphernalia and/or laboratory equipment, and through the PDEA shall within twenty-four (24) hours thereafter proceed with the destruction or burning of the same, in the presence of the accused or the person/s from whom such items were confiscated and/or seized, or his/her representative or counsel, a representative from the media and the DOJ, civil society groups and any elected public official.”

    Lacson acknowledged, though, that the drugs were stockpiled and could not be destroyed yet pending the slow resolution of related drug cases in courts.

    Lacson said senators will ask the Supreme Court to “find a way to help PDEA, maybe through the intercession of the Senate, to fast-track or expedite the destruction of drugs.”

    “If drugs already confiscated will find its way in the open market because they are recycled, the efforts of law enforcement will be wasted,” he said.

    “We will plead with the SC to put its foot down on judges who refuse to abide by the law, which mandates the destruction of confiscated drugs within 72 hours after confiscation. There’s still P22B worth of drugs still in the inventory of PDEA. They have already destroyed P55B but there is still P22B there. And these were seized as far back as 2010,” Lacson said.

    Lacson said senators will consult with legal experts on how to best handle the predicament over the 72-hour deadline. “If the 72 hours is not practical, maybe we can find a way by way of legislation or by an SC circular to somehow extend, if it’s not in direct violation of RA 9165. But there must be a way to stop this recycling.”

    Drilon, a former secretary of the Department of Justice, expressed alarm and disappointment over the admission of Aquino.

    Drilon said Aquino’s admission is a sign that the campaign against illegal drugs, the cornerstone of the Duterte administration, is failing.

    “I am disgusted and dismayed by the report of the PDEA that recycling of shabu is rampant,” Drilon said, adding: “This is worrisome. This is a decades-old case of bantay-salakay, wherein the people who are given the task of enforcing the law insofar as drug trafficking is concerned are the ones who lead the anomalous practices.”

    “Given that admission, I am not very optimistic about the success of the anti-drug campaign, in general,” he added.

    Drilon recalled that when he was at the helm of the DOJ, officers who had custody of illegal drugs would claim the seized items would be eaten up by rats.

    “Unfortunately today, it is even on a larger scale. Mukhang mas malaki ang mga daga ngayon (It looks like the rats are bigger nowadays),” he said.

    Drilon said specific measures must be undertaken to prevent this “horrible” practice from continuing.

    The minority leader said he will request the Office of the Court Administrator to give special attention and more rigorous enforcement of the law on the burning of drugs confiscated.

    He also said he will move for an additional budget for the PDEA to reopen a PDEA unit in the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa, after its old unit was closed.

    Lacson proposed that police and anti-narcotics agents be mandated to use body cameras as a preemptive method.

    “A good preemptive method is body cams. If all agents on the field will wear a body camera, it will be easy to find out who is pilfering or recycling the seized drugs. If they are not using it or turning them off there should be sanctions. When you join an operation and you do not use your body camera, there should be automatic sanctions. These will be newly procured body cams. If they don’t function during raids especially raids versus illegal drugs, we have a problem we should not tolerate,” Lacson said.

    “I think we should be 2-3 steps ahead of those who are ‘enterprising,” he stressed.