Rights group out to demonize 'drug war'—Palace

MALACAñANG on Saturday decried attempts to “demonize” the bloody war on drugs by international rights group Amnesty International, after President Rodrigo Duterte decided to make the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency as the sole agency in charge of his drug campaign. 

“The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, which has been recently assigned by PRRD [President Rodrigo Roa Duterte] as the sole agency in charge of the government’s anti-illegal drug campaign, is now being demonized by Amnesty International,” Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said in a statement.

James Gomez, Amnesty International’s director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, warned that Duterte’s decision “may be nothing but a short-term PR move” meant to appease the growing opposition to it.

In the House of Representatives, an opposition leader welcomed Duterte’s decision to tap the PDEA to lead the administration’s anti-drug campaign.

BUuhay Party-list Rep. Lito Atienza, senior deputy minority leader,  expressed belief the government’s effort to fight illegal drugs would have a better chance of succeeding with PDEA as the lead implementing agency.

“We commend the President, who definitely was well-advised and acted correctly and with great sensitivity  by removing the anti-drug war from the hands of the PNP and giving it to the proper agency—PDEA,” Atienza said.

Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella

“I am sure that, generally, the people will support the President’s decision. But now that the President has given the PDEA the task of waging the government’s anti-drug war, he should make sure that they have the budget required for this,” he added.

Like in the appropriations approved for next year, Atienza lamented PDEA only got a very small amount—P2.59 billion.

“Maybe the ‘tokhang’ budget of the Philippine National Police of P900 million should be given to the PDEA and the President should see to it that they be given enough,” Atienza said.

Initially,  the PDEA should be given between P10 and P 15 billion so they can hire more agents and more personnel to be more effective in the anti-drug war, Atienza said.

At the same time, Interior and Local Government Officer-in-Charge Catalino Cuy said the DILG was “open to suggestions” regarding the drop boxes for the  Mamamayang Ayaw sa Anomalya, Mamamayang Ayaw sa Iligal na Droga and that there is no need to scrap the budget allocated  for the purpose altogether.

Cuy made the pronouncement after the MASA MASID, along with the “drop box mechanism”, was grilled in the Senate plenary debate for DILG’s budget and was deemed as “prone to malice and abuse which can possibly lead to unnecessary deaths”.

“We can do away with the MASA MASID drop box but not the whole budget earmarked for the mechanism,” he said.

MASA MASID is a barangay-based anti-criminality, anti-corruption, and anti-illegal drugs program which encourages multi-sectoral partnership to intensify the spirit of volunteerism at the community level.

Cuy acknowledged the adverse reactions from various sectors on the drop box scheme but maintained it was meant as a feedback mechanism that would encourage the people to take an active role in ensuring peace and order in communities.

“The drop box is not meant for ‘tokhang’ as claimed by different groups.  We just want the people to be on board in the government’s efforts for peaceful and progressive communities,”  he said.

Abella also accused the Amnesty International of “disparaging” the frontline role of the PNP” in the anti-illegal drug campaign. 

“PDEA is the new object of A.I.’s, and similar groups’ ire and vilification,” he said. 

The international watchdog’s comments however would have no effect on Duterte’s decision.

“We are hopeful that operations of this agency will not be jeopardized by the interference of outside agencies that fail to appreciate our desire, not for a drug-tolerant, but drug-free nation,” Abella said.

On Friday, Duterte said 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.

The President also admitted he stood 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 about the competence of PDEA chief Aaron Aquino, Duterte remained wary whether the agency could cope, now that it was the sole agency leading the drug war.

“The President should be supported on this particular measure. The people have seen and witnessed how innocent people have been killed, with the killings executed in a summary way.  That was the primary  reasons why the President has been falling in his performance rating,” Atienza said.

Atienza was among the lawmakers who called for the higher budget allocation for PDEA during budget deliberations the past few years, calling the drug menace as the single biggest threat to the country’s stability and security.

Atienza also pointed out that the people have rejected the way the PNP had been handling the anti-drug war.

“We should all rally around President Duterte’s decision to give the PDEA this task. After all, the PDEA is the primary agency tasked with the government’s anti-drug effort,” Atienza said.

“The police, on the other hand, should concentrate on apprehending the criminals roaming the country today. Riding-in-tandem has become a daily nightmare for the citizenry. People have been killed and murdered by riding-in-tandem criminals,” he added.

He stressed “the police should concentrate on that and the other crimes being committed, and make the streets safer than before.”

Topics: Malacañang , “demonize” , War on drugs , President Rodrigo Duterte , Amnesty International , Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency
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