Hands-off tack shifts drug targets

PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte on Friday said that he was taking a hands-off approach and leaving the job of prosecuting the war on drugs to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency to satisfy his critics, who have denounced the rising death toll.

At the same time, however, he said he was not washing his hands of the responsibility for the death of thousands of drug suspects at the hands of the police, who have now been taken off the assignment that has been transferred to the PDEA.

In his speech Thursday, Duterte said he hoped a shift to target big networks in his war on drugs would satisfy “bleeding hearts” and interfering Western states fixated on the high death toll in his brutal crackdown.

Duterte earlier directed the PDEA to be in charge of his drug war to target “higher echelons of the syndicates, as well as their protectors in government.”

The President likewise admitted he stands to lose all the gains made in the drug war by pulling out all government agencies involved in the campaign.

“Me frankly? I say we’ll lose it,” he said.

While he is confident of the competence of PDEA chief Aaron Aquino, Duterte remained wary whether the agency can cope, now that it is the sole agency leading the drug war.

The Palace on Friday denied allegations that Duterte pulled the PNP from the job as a “graceful coverup” for its lapses in addressing the drug war.

“That’s presumptive to think that it’s a graceful cover-up. It’s simply a response to a situation. If it were a business, it’s a corporate decision,” Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said in a Palace news briefing Friday.

Abella said Duterte’s latest order was meant to make the Filipino people “more comfortable” as the administration’s crackdown on narcotics remains relentless.

“If the perception is that the PDEA would be more acceptable in doing the campaign, waging the campaign, then let’s see how it goes. That was the tenor of the President’s statement,” he added.

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II on Friday said that he believed that the petition filed before the Supreme Court questioning the legality of President Duterte’s bloody war on drugs will not prosper.

Aguirre told the reporters that the petition filed by Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) representing the alleged victims of Duterte’s anti-drug campaign may be rendered as moot since the President already removed the police from implementing the anti-drug campaign.

The group also criticized a Department of Interior and Local Government program to enable people to anonymously report drug suspects to the police.

Diokno said the project “violates the right to due process of law and to be presumed innocent.”

“You can report any person, even if they are completely innocent. It does not require evidence, only names. This is just like during the Japanese occupation or the rule of Nazi Germany,” he said.

PDEA chief Aaron Aquino warned Friday that the war on drugs would be pursued less intensely because his office lacks the needed manpower.

“I know the public has high expectations but I am asking the public for understanding because of our limitations,” he said in a radio interview.

Amid unprecedented scrutiny of police conduct, Duterte issued a memorandum on Tuesday ordering police to withdraw, but “maintain police visibility, as a deterrent.”

The authorities on Thursday said the shift in strategy was to go after big-time drug syndicates.

In a tirade on Thursday loaded with profanity aimed at his foreign and domestic critics, Duterte said deaths during PDEA’s operations were far less than police, and hoped “bleeding hearts” would be satisfied with his decision.

PNP chief Ronald dela Rosa said the police were winning the campaign, with supply slashed and 113,000 arrests.

He added that the President was just following the law when he transferred the anti-drug campaign to the PDEA.

Dela Rosa speculated it was possible Duterte was responding to opinion polls that showed some public unease about the crackdown. A poll on Sunday showed a significant slide in Duterte’s ratings, although he still remains popular. With Bill Casas

Phelim Kine of Human Rights Watch said Duterte had “buckled to growing public dismay over his murderous war on drugs.”

“But,” he added, “if Duterte believes that declaring another suspension in police killing operations will ease pressure for a UN-led international investigation into the drug war, he should think again. His war won’t end until there is justice and accountability for its thousands of victims.”

Opposition Sen. Risa Hontiveros said she full supports the tolling of the bells activity led by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) “as we continue to pray and seek justice for all the victims of extrajudicial killings.”

“I also encourage citizens to join our local parish churches every 8 p.m. when our own bells are tolled,” she said.

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian has expressed optimism that the designation of the PDEA as the sole agency authorized to conduct anti-illegal drug operations would restore the integrity of the government’s campaign against illegal drugs and put an end to the killings perpetrated by police scalawags.

“Ultimately, I believe the President’s decision will put an end to the bloodshed and make the streets safer for everyone, especially our children,” he added.

Noting that PDEA Director-General Aaron Aquino has already expressed concerns about the capacity of his agency to pursue the drug war without the help of PNP, Gatchalian said it would be necessary to beef up the manpower complement of the agency. The PDEA only has 1,274 drug enforcement officers (DEOs), as of March 2017.

“To ensure the PDEA will be equipped to carry out the President’s directive, we need to recruit an army of professional anti-drug operatives who will be trained to conduct drug raids with integrity and due respect for the constitutional rights of drug personalities and civilian bystanders alike,” the senator said.

Gatchalian also reiterated his proposal to equip PDEA operatives with a body camera to further boost accountability and transparency in the conduct of anti-drug operations.

Topics: President Rodrigo Duterte , War on drugs , Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency
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