Duterte not satisfied with PDEA’s low high-value target anti-drug busts; PNP street-level operations to resume

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By Lara Climaco | FilAm Star Correspondent

With just about 2,000 operatives nationwide, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) managed to seize more than PHP 62.5 million worth of illegal drugs over a span of 40 days when it went solo, waging the Duterte administration’s war on drugs.

Conducting 1,546 operations from October 11 to November 20, the Agency arrested 469 persons, of whom 81 were high-value targets and 13 were government workers. There were six minors rescued and 38 barangays cleared of illegal drug activities. Nationwide, only one person turned up dead as a result of anti-drug operations, according to the PDEA’s accomplishment report.

Apparently, these numbers are unsatisfactory to President Rodrigo Duterte, who announced recently that the Philippine National Police (PNP) would most likely resume the lead in the anti-drug campaign. That is, to conduct street-level surveillance and curtailment of the illegal drug trade — which by Duterte’s simple arithmetic is a PHP 216-billion industry destroying the country’s future by targeting the children of overseas Filipino workers as a critical mass of methamphetamine addicts.

The numbers bear out the President’s concern that the drug problem might be worsening with only the PDEA moving in the drug war. Official data place the number of anti-drug operations from July 1, 2016 to September 26 this year, or shortly before PNP operations were suspended, at 76,863 with 113,932 drug personalities arrested and PHP 18.84 billion worth of illegal drugs, including controlled precursors and essential chemicals, taken off the market.

Some PHP 12.9 billion worth of methamphetamine, better known as “shabu” in the Philippines, were included in the drug haul. In the process, 3,906 drug personalities died, according to official estimates. By the reckoning of New York City-based Human Rights Watch, however, the death toll exceeds 12,000, of which at least 2,555 are believed to be summary killings done or sanctioned by the Philippine government.

Going by the official numbers, the Duterte administration’s average hits over the 14 months to September this year were more than 5,000 anti-drug operations, more than 8,000 arrests and close to a billion pesos worth of shabu seized per month.

PDEA’s accomplishments may be considered inadequate in comparison, something the Agency readily admits.

“PDEA welcomes the decision of the President. It has been the desire of PDEA that PNP will return in the fight against illegal drugs. PDEA has repeatedly admitted that it is undermanned, under-budget and under-equipped, hence the need for other law enforcement agencies particularly the PNP,” the agency said in a statement issued after Malacañang raised the possibility of reactivating the PNP in the drug war.

This doesn’t mean the Agency will no longer be playing a lead role, according to Derrick Carreon, PDEA spokesman and director of its public information office.

“PDEA is still and will always be the lead agency in the anti-drug campaign as mandated by R.A. 9165,” he told FilAm Star in a phone interview.

“We will continue conducting anti-drug operations focusing on arresting high value targets and conducting high impact operations. So, it is wrong to say that the PNP will take the lead, but rather they will resume conducting anti-drug operations,” Carreon added.

The distinction between the two agencies’ operations is that PDEA focuses on high-value targets, while the PNP conducts operations on the street level. This is perhaps why no clandestine laboratories, chemical warehouses nor drug tiangges were dismantled from October 11 to November 20, with PNP not in the picture. PDEA data also show a drastic reduction in the amount of methamphetamine seizures at 6.92 kilograms during the period, versus an average of almost 180kg. during the prior 14 months when the PNP was active.

Apologists of Duterte’s war on drugs have repeatedly pointed out the bizarre behavior of people addicted to methamphetamine, including indiscriminate rape, theft and killings.

Because shabu is a mixture of chemicals, it shrinks the brain and is considered deadlier than hashish, heroin and cocaine, which are derived from plants, the President himself has noted on many occasions. Drug raids involving methamphetamine addicts often turn bloody due to their violent behavior and psychotic symptoms such as paranoia, visual and auditory hallucinations and delusions, according to police operatives.

However, critics of Duterte’s war on drugs, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the European Union, have deplored the high number of killings — many believed to be unjustifiable summary killings — and called on the Philippine government to end the impunity.

“This is a drug war. Everyone is in danger of dying… If killings happen, let investigations ensue,” PDEA’s Carreon said, pointing out that drug law enforcers are also on the receiving end of bullets.

From July 1, 2016 to September 26 this year, 85 drug law enforcers have been killed while 225 have been wounded in anti-drug operations, according to official numbers from PDEA.

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