By Genalyn Kabiling
With the drug menace considered the “number one” national security threat, President Duterte is preparing to mobilize government assets, including the military, to block the flow of illegal drugs in the country.
The President said he was ready to “go to the extremes” to stop the drug problem as he bared plans to activate a national task force to combat the illegal drug trade.
“I will issue a memorandum circular directing the entire government machinery to mobilize its assets and to take an active role in the government’s anti-illegal drug campaign nationwide,”Duterte said during a Cabinet meeting in Malacañang.
“What we have is the moving forward to eradicate illegal drug trade, activate a National Anti-illegal Drug Task Force,” he added.
He said the task force would be composed of the personnel assets from the Philippine National Police, Armed Forces of the Philippines, Bureau of Customs, Coast Guard, and the other agencies of the government. “It can provide a necessary personnel complement to carry out the directive of the President to the Bureau of customs to block the flow of illegal drugs in this country,” he added.
The President acknowledged that illegal drugs have created an “aberration” in the country, as he threatened anew to kill those who destroy the country.
“Drug menace is the number one threat to national security,” he said, admitting that shabu has entered the country “almost everyday.”
“Linking drugs not only to its significant influence in the rise of heinous crimes but also it negatively affects the economy and the role it plays in the corruption of our collections even in our law enforcement agencies,” he added.
Duterte said the government must not wait to act on the drug problem “just like America” where the drug menace has become “almost pandemic.”
“But you know we are no match with America if we have to set a standard about human dignity, about human rights. Alam mo bakit? Wala tayong pera. We don’t have that sophisticated mga machines,” he added.
The President issued the remarks after defending his decision to allow military presence in the Bureau of Customs (BOC) to help combat corruption and smuggling of drugs and other contraband.
He said only “a few technical men of the Armed Forces of the Philippines” would be tapped to assist the customs bureau “just see to it that everything is done properly.”
Several lawmakers and concerned sectors earlier criticized the planned military takeover of the BoC, saying such move was unconstitutional.
“It will be a government military takeover. Because ang ilagay ko in the meantime, ‘yung chief, is a – would be another military man. Until I am satisfied that law and order are established in that area, the presence of the Armed Forces of the Philippines will be there,” he said.
Duterte also clarified that he has not ordered any appointment or designation of military personnel to occupy the posts of BOC employees.
“Sabinilana it violates the constitution and the operative words there are the prohibition of appointment or designation. When I called in the Army to help the Bureau of Customs, there was no designation, there was no appointment and there was never an instruction for them to take over the functions of the employee,” he said.
He explained that he merely placed “chiefs of offices and section chiefs” on floating status while their assistants would do the job instead.
“Anong militarization?Takotnaman… Bakitmatakot? Since when did the military commit an abuse here in this country during my term? Since when did I condone any wrongdoing of any military man? Tell me,” he said.
Dutertehad earlier appointed former military general Rey Guerrero as new Customs chief, replacing Isidro Lapeña after a huge shipment of shabu was allegedly smuggled into the country. He later ordered a military takeover of the customs to clean up the corruption-ridden agency.
The President, meantime, renewed his resolve to protect and preserve the nation from the drug threat, saying he would rather resign than let the country go to the dogs.
“I’m determined. I’m ready to do anything at all. Anything basta mahinto lang ito. I will go to the extremes,” he said.
The government is mulling the replacement of 650 personnel of the BOC amid the intensified campaign to fight corruption and smuggling.
Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III informed the President Duterte about the estimated number of personnel affected by the BOC reorganization during a Cabinet meeting in Malacañang last Tuesday.
“That is the plan, to do it system-wide and actually we were doing the rough numbers the last day of working day last week and we came up with the number of 650 people will have to be replaced,” Dominguez said during the Cabinet assembly.
The finance chief recently met with new Customs chief Rey Guerrero to discuss the latest BOC reorganization following President Duterte’s order to the military to assist the agency.
“We met yesterday and also the – right before the holidays. He is basically making a list of all the personnel that we will require and he is also reviewing all the procedures that he will implement,” Dominguez said.
He noted that the technical personnel who would be assigned to the customs bureau must undergo “an extensive training program.”
“I just want to inform you that all those people that we will be seconding or detailing will have to undergo an extensive training program because this is quite a technical job. And I’m assured by (Defense) Secretary (Delfin) Lorenzana that they have the technical personnel who can speed up that training program,” he said.
Dominguez welcomed the President’s decision to detail new personnel in the BOC since it would “reduce familiarity.” “By law that system of secondment and detailing can be done legally and I think it is – it’s going to work,” he added.