A dangerous new twist in the gov’t war on drugs

Published March 2, 2021, 12:19 AM

by Manila Bulletin

The  drug  problem in the country was in the news again last week. This time, however, the news was not about so many killed in police  raids or the huge amounts of drugs seized. It was about a ”misencounter” between the men of two government agencies – the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA)  and the Quezon City Police District  of the Philippine National Police (PNP).

It seems the two groups of government  men fired at each other, resulting in the death of two QC policemen,  one PDEA operative, and an informant.   President Duterte stopped the separate investigations  by  the two  agencies. He designated the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to be the sole agency to probe the   incident.

At  the  start of his administration  in 2016, President Duterte launched his campaign to  stop the huge drug operations in the country.   Thousands were killed in the police raids. In February, 2020,  the police said  5,532 had been killed in anti-drug operations  since mid-2016, but human rights groups, such as Amnesty International,  suspect  the nationwide death toll is much higher. The victims were mostly people  killed  in  the police raids, including  some adolescents caught in the line of fire. .

Last week, four more people were killed, but this time, those killed were  two policemen, one government anti-drugs agent,  and one informant. There were no civilian victims, only   government  agents in  what has  been called a “misencounter.”

But  former PNP chief, now Senator  Ronald dela Rosa said  the two agencies may have been “played” by a  drug syndicate. They may have been manipulated into shooting at each other by the syndicate.  There is no information about who was the drug trafficker involved.

If both government groups were indeed  engaged in anti-drug operations,  they should have coordinated with each other, as required by Section 8 of  Republic Act 9165, the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act.  Rep.  Ace Barbers, chairman of the   House of Representatives Committee on Dangerous Drugs, also  said  the reported presence  of  high-ranking police officers in the incident is another suspicious angle. The information given so far by the PDEA and the PNP has only   raised “more questions than  answers,” Barbers said.

There are indeed so many questions for which there seem  to be no possible reasonable answers. The President has  told  the PNP and PDEA to stop their own  probes and  leave it to  the NBI. He  has  also asked the  Senate and the House to defer their own inquiries, and they have deferred to the President’s request, so as not to hinder the NBI probe.

We hope the NBI will get  to the bottom of this incident. For this is  not the usual case of accidental civilian deaths during government operations. This is a case of two government groups fighting each other   in actual combat,  resulting in four deaths among them. It is a dangerous  new twist in the government’s continuing war on drugs.