One thing Vice President Leni Robredo can add to the ongoing campaign against drugs in the country is greater openness in operations. The campaign has been marked by so many developments that have raised so many questions – from the actual number of deaths, to how so much drugs managed to slip through customs, to how involved policemen are in drugs.
Last June, the Presidential Communications Operation Office in Malacanang announced what it called the “real numbers” in police statistics on the anti-drugs drive. A total of 4,279 drug suspects have been killed in the drive since 2016, it said. All other figures – some as high as 12,000 – from other sources are baseless, it said. The Philippine National Police itself then came out with a figure of 22,983 killings which it described as “Deaths under Inquiry.” These are deaths in the course of robberies, gang fights, ambushes, etc., it said — 33 persons a day killed in the first 665 days of the administration. How many of these inquiries have now been completed?
While police were going after drug suspects, huge drug shipments worth billions of pesos were being found in warehouses. Other shipments were believed smuggled through magnetic lifters found at the Manila International Container Port. While police were smashing away at the demand end of the drugs market, the supply side apparently was carrying on undiminished. The drug problem, it appears, is as big as ever. Where are the drugs coming from and how?
Then, just when police raids had become better organized and in strict accordance with legal rules and regulations, the Pampanga PNP was found to have, in 2013, kept most of the drugs it had seized and resold it on the market – and the sitting PNP chief himself was then Pampanga police chief. This has led many to wonder: How deeply involved are police enforcers in the drug problem?
Vice President Robredo, like many other critics, was asking these questions. And President Duterte decided to appoint her co-chairman of the task force against drugs, the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (ICAD) led by Director General Aaron Aquino of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency.
When the President, evidently irked at Robredo’s critical remarks on the drugs drive, had first told her to take over for six months and see if she could do better, Aquino immediately commented Robredo would fail because she was “not abreast with the supply reduction efforts and lacks experience in dealing and working with law enforcers.” He suddenly changed his mind after Robredo accepted Duterte’s offer to join the ICAD, now saying she could “well contribute to the advocacy and rehabilitation/reintegration clusters.”
These are the people she will be working with in the ICAD and she is just co-chairman. The real planning and operations will still be handled by Aquino and other administration officials.
What she can do is ask questions about the drugs campaign from her new position in the higher level of operation. This in turn should lead to greater openness that should discourage actions like those of the Pampanga PNP of 2013, deter official action or inaction that allows huge drug shipments to make it through customs, and encourage police raiders to adhere more closely to the law in their raids and other operations.
And she certainly can do a lot to push that part of the drugs drive that has not received its due importance –he rehabilitation of drug addicts, as suggested by Director General Aquino.