A war on drugs that people will support

Former president Rodrigo Duterte launched his war on drugs with a promise to end the country’s drug scourge in three to six months. Six years later, Duterte admitted that he underestimated the magnitude and the complexity of the illegal drugs problem. He lamented that government officials and law enforcers themselves were involved in the drug trade.

President Marcos pledged to continue the war on drugs, but it will focus on prevention and rehabilitation. “We will have to do it in a different way,” Marcos said in his first interview after winning the presidency. “We have seen that the drug war has been conducted purely on the enforcement side. I think we should also focus on the prevention side.”

Sen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, the first PNP chief to oversee Duterte’s bloody war on drugs, earlier warned that police officers and politicians involved in illegal drugs appear to be coming back. Dela Rosa, who chairs the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs, said it seems these criminals think the Marcos administration may be going soft on illegal drugs. Urging no letup in the offensive against drug syndicates, the senator cautioned against the return of the “ninja cops.”

Interior Secretary Benhur Abalos defended the Marcos administration’s campaign against illegal drugs, saying the evidence would speak for itself. He cited over P10 billion worth of illegal drugs seized since the President took office.

Abalos, however, admitted in a recent news briefing the involvement of some policemen in illegal drugs activities, which is dragging the whole PNP down and tainting its reputation. “This must be stopped, it keeps on repeating. This war on drugs will be a difficult battle especially when your own allies are the ones shooting you from behind,” Abalos said.

Last month, a district chief of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency and three other personnel were apprehended during an anti-illegal drug operation in Taguig City. This prompted the city government to cut its ties with PDEA, saying it is “a betrayal of the highest order since the PDEA chief and agents were arrested at the very building the city allowed them to use for anti-drug operations.”

Abalos on Wednesday called on all police officials from the ranks of colonel, brigadier general and up to submit their voluntary resignations in a drastic move to weed out those involved in illegal drugs from the PNP.

Police Chief Gen. Rodolfo Azurin Jr., who was the first to tender his courtesy resignation, said close to 600 senior police officials have heeded the DILG secretary’s call. “As of Sunday, we were able to account close to 600,” Azurin said, adding that at least 456 more senior officials are expected to file their voluntary resignations. The submission deadline is January 31.

Azurin earlier said only about five ranking PNP officials, among almost a thousand generals and full colonels, are suspected of involvement in the drug trade. An independent five-man committee will conduct an evaluation process to determine potential links of the police officers to the drug trade.

President Marcos said on Friday that the call for senior PNP officers to submit courtesy resignations was his directive. We are cleansing the ranks and making sure that the officials who will remain are trustworthy and are working for the government, not for syndicates, he said. The President said officers who will be cleared will be reinstated, while those with “severe” cases may face charges.

Abalos said the resignation of senior PNP officers will help keep the public’s confidence in the campaign against illegal drugs. He explained that the “ninja cops” are dangerous because they know how to cover their tracks, and they have drug money to buy protection from the powers that be. With their corrosive influence, they can make PNP drug enforcers their cohorts, and eliminate honest subordinates that are perceived as threats to their criminal activities.

The move to cleanse the police force should give the PNP a fresh start. But it would do well for the Marcos administration to also go after fiscals, judges and government officials who are involved in the illegal trade, or protectors of drug lords.

Drug abuse harms families and communities and erodes the social fabric that holds people together. That’s why the war on drugs must be relentless against drug lords and narcotraffickers. But users should not be treated as criminals. The government needs to find effective measures to reintegrate into society individuals who have fallen victims to drug abuse. This is one way for authorities involved in the war on drugs to fully regain the public’s trust.