PHILIPPINE Drug Enforcement Agency chief Aaron Aquino dismissed as a “mere political attack against President Rodrigo Duterte” the assessment made by Vice President Leni Robredo that the government’s war on drugs was a failure.
“Vice President Leni Robredo’s statement is saddening,” Aquino added, lamenting that “she has dismissed and ignored all of our government’s accomplishments and efforts for the past three years” despite the fact that she was only co-chair of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (ICAD) for only 18 days in November.
“As far as PDEA is concerned, the metrics for the success of the anti-illegal drug campaign is drug clearing, crime index, trust rating and operational accomplishments,” Aquino said.
He said the war on drugs has led to the clearing of 16,706 barangays of illegal drugs or 49.13 percent of the total 33,881 affected barangays.
“The nationwide crime incidents declined from 11,860 in July 2016 to 5,000 in July 2019 as reported by the Philippine National Police. Eighty-two percent of Filipinos are satisfied with the war against illegal drugs as revealed in the Social Weather Stations survey last September 2019,” he added.
He also noted that the trust rating of President Duterte, who he described as the “author” of the war on drugs, “is at its peak at 87 percent last December.”
Aquino also said a total of P45 billion worth of illegal drugs have been seized and 225,284 suspects were arrested in 162,987 operations conducted from 2016 to 2019.
“Ibig sabihin tama ang ginagawa ng ating national government. Gusto ng tao ang ginagawa ng Pangulong Duterte sa program kontra illegal na droga. (These all means that what the national government is doing is correct. The public clearly approves of President Duterte’s war on drugs). How can she claim it’s a failure?” Aquino asked.
While he acknowledged that there are “shortcomings and flaws” in the program, particularly on the rehabilitation aspect, “but that is what ICAD is addressing now.”
“As for her statement that ‘kalat ang datos’ (the data is in disarray), the Dangerous Drugs Board has completed its survey and is now on the final phase of data gathering to once and for all update the data on drug users and pushers,” Aquino said.
“We reported that to the VP. However, I told her that it is very difficult to gather the real data since nobody will admit that he/she is a user or pusher. That is the same situation in other countries,” he also said.
Robredo’s spokesman Barry Gutierrez dismissed Aquino’s accomplishment boasts, noting that he did not dispute the numbers presented by the Vice President “and instead presents completely unrelated statistics such as the number of arrests and the President’s approval rating.”
“These do not address the basic point that only a miniscule fraction of total drug supply is being stopped by government efforts,” Gutierrez said in a statement.
Gutierrez said the “P45 billion worth of illegal drugs” that Aquino claims have been seized is, according to PNP figures, less than two weeks’ worth of total drug consumption and only serves to validate the point made in the Robredo report.
“We hope that DG Aquino and other officials will face these hard truths squarely, instead of attempting to brush them off or confuse the issue. This is the difficult, but necessary, step that must be taken if we are to really improve the current drug campaign,” he said.
Gutierrez reiterated that the Vice President’s purpose was not to criticize or attack anyone “but to reveal the truth about the drug war.”
“The numbers are there. The report is clearly based on empirical evidence. If they disagree with it, they should prove their point through evidence as well. Otherwise, it is obvious who is really politicizing the issue,” he said.
Malacañang wrote off as a “dud” the Robredo as it expectedly denied her assessment.
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, concurrent presidential spokesman, reminded Robredo that she was not an expert and may have had some miscalculations when she claimed that only one percent of the shabu supply in the country had been seized in the government’s campaign for the past here years.
Panelo said what can be considered as a failure was the appointment of Robredo as ICAD co-chairperson.
“If you noticed when she was threatening this report, she implied na meron siyang mga nadiskubreng mga iregularidad, na akala mo’y bombang sasabog sa mukha. It’s a dud.
Wala naman siyang sinabi doon na bago na hindi tinututukan ng mga ahensiya na involved sa laban sa droga, there’s nothing new in what she said (If you noticed when she was threatening this report, she implied that there were some irregularities discovered, a bomb that would explode on your face. It’s a dud. She did not say anything new, and that are already being addressed by the agencies involved in the anti-drug campaign. there’s nothing new in what she said),” he said.
Panelo said Robredo’s statement and assessments, which he noted came almost two months since she was fired from ICAD, was just her way of attempting to be “relevant.”
He said that as far as the government is concerned, the campaign is a success because several drug laboratories and factories had already been dismantled, thousands of drug addicts and pushers had already surrendered, and some “high value target drug suspects have been neutralized.”
He dismissed Robredo’s claims that only small time pushers and users had been arrested and neutralized but was unable to name or site the instances when the high value drug suspects had been nabbed.
He also denied said that the statistics being used and released by government does not jive because some figures only pertained to the number of users in Metro Manila while other figures pertained to figures covering the whole country.
On Robredo’s suggestion that ICAD should be headed by the Dangerous Drug Board, Panelo said “it’s the expert that should give us recommendations – those involved in the drug war”.
He chided for her statements, sneering that Robredo was only at ICAD for a short stint and yet, she was already giving a lot of opinion. “Her short stint, however, does not make her an expert,” he said.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III shared the administration’s denial that the war on drugs was a failure.
Saying that Robredo may have a different perspective, Sotto said a government only fails in the war on drug if it stops from fighting the menace.
“War versus drugs fails only when you stop fighting. It’s a constant battle versus drug dealers, drug dependents, corrupt officials and cerebrally- challenged critics,” he said.
He, however, said that there are “some very valid points” raised by Robredo but said the report, for him, failed to highlight the main solution to possibly stop the drug problems, and that is by drug use prevention.
“Some very valid points but much like the executive department: they fail to highlight the main issue of prevention. I keep on harping, ‘the day we stop buying is the day they stop selling’,” he added.
During his stint as vice mayor of Quezon City where he was the city’s anti-illegal drugs czar in the early 1990s, Sotto said he concentrated on educating the public on drug use prevention, which was the reason why the drug prevalence in the city at the time drastically went down.
“My experience in QC which was emphasis on prevention, brought down the drug stats from 54 percent prevalence to nine percent in 1992. Ayaw Nila makinig sa akin, eh di hwag! (They won’t heed my advice. So be it !!!),” he said.
Sen. Ronald dela Rosa, who led Duterte administration’s war on drug when he was the PNP chief, questioned the source of Robredo’s data.
“Hindi ko sya maintindihan. Sabi nya walang datos or kulang kulang ang data na available from the government pertaining to the accomplishments on the war on drugs, ngayon magpresent sya na 1 percent lang ng drugs at drug money ang na-confiscate. Saan galing ‘yung data nya? (I cannot understand her because she used to say that the government’s data on the accomplishments on the war on drugs is incomplete and now she presented something which says that only one percent of drugs and drug money have been confiscated. Where did she get her data?),” Dela Rosa said.
Dela Rosa called Robredo ignorant for questioning why drug pushers and users have been sharing rooms in rehabilitation centers.
“Paanong hindi sila isinama sa isang rehab center eh pareho silang adik? Hindi ba nya alam na ang pusher ay user din? Kaya karamihan ng adik nagpu-push ng droga to sustain their need to use drugs. Kaya magkasama sila sa rehab because they need the same treatment for addiction (The reason why pushers and users share the same room in rehab centers is that because they are both drug addicts. Doesn’t she know that most users are also pushers so they can sustain their need for drug use? They share the same room because they need the same treatment for addiction),” he added.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson described the government’s war on drugs as “not been successful enough rather than call it a failure” as he reiterated that government must concentrate on stopping the supply of illegal drugs for the war on drugs to succeed.
“I already said earlier that there may be a need to shift the focus on the supply side more than the demand side or what we call the low-life street pushers. Their apprehension should be directed at going after their big suppliers rather than gloat about it as an accomplishment by the police and other drug enforcement operatives,” Lacson said.
“Intelligence, being the prime mover of all law enforcement operations should be given utmost priority and a no-mercy policy against corrupt anti-drug law enforcement operatives must be implemented immediately. Having said that, the war against illegal drugs is a continuing fight and therefore, I would rather say, it has not been successful enough rather than call it a failure,” he said.
Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III said it is best if President Duterte tap his most trusted man to lead the war on drugs since there are other pressing issues a President has to attend to.
“Hence the President should remain as President and delegate the war on drugs to his most trusted (in competence) law enforcer and drug war strategist. But I agree that we should go after the big time suppliers and manufacturers,” Pimentel said.
PNP officer-in-charge Lt. Gen. Archie Gamboa has ordered regional police commanders to submit a list of high-value targets (HVTs) in their respective areas in the continuing war against drugs.
In a press briefing in Camp Crame, Gamboa said the neutralization of these HVTs at the regional level should be prioritized in compliance with the recent directive of President Duterte.
“I directed them to submit the top 10 but it can go at least top 20 or even more,” Gamboa said.
“The reason I asked them to submit the Top 10 is so that we are able to determine in terms of priority, we want them identified and neutralized, meaning apply for search warrant or arrest them in buy-bust (operations),” he added.
Gamboa said the regional police should have “appreciation on the drug problem at the regional level. The region should have a priority, the provinces, cities, and municipalities should also have priorities so that each of the different units of the PNP would have their own respective priorities in terms of HVTs.”
Gamboa said the PNP has a list of HVTs at the national level. Asked how many these are, he made a general response: “Many, there are many of them.”
He said the HVTs at the national level are the subject of operations by the PNP Drug Enforcement Group.
“When it comes to the national level, they are from the importation level… and probably the 1st, 2nd down line. They are considered (as HVTs) at the national level but the rest can be dealt with by the (police units in the) regions and the provinces,” he said. – With Jocelyn Montemayor, Wendell Vigilia and Raymond Africa