A shootout that should not have happened

Published March 2, 2021, 12:19 AM

by Former Senator Atty. Joey D. Lina


Former Senator
Atty. Joey Lina

The deadly encounter recently between operatives of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency and the Philippine National Police is another setback that strikes at the heart of the administration’s war on drugs.

And the possibility that law enforcers were played upon, as raised by Senator Panfilo Lacson and Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency Wilkins Villanueva, can be very disturbing, especially if one sees that the Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB), which is supposed to have overall command of the anti-drugs campaign, is composed of brilliant minds.

No matter where the current probe of the National Bureau of Investigation leads to, one thing is clear: Government authorities must do everything necessary to prevent a repeat of the fatal “misencounter” last week in Quezon City.

Senator Lacson is right when he said in his press statement that “policy adjustments are needed for the government to keep two to three steps ahead of drug syndicates, especially to address the possibility that such syndicates manipulate ‘informants’ to mislead government forces into fighting each other.”

The fight against illegal drugs can be won with a right strategy pursued relentlessly. And to ensure that the strategy remains right, policy adjustments ought to be implemented when necessary. Considering that drug syndicates will never stop trying to outsmart the system in place, authorities ought to not only keep up with the enemy but also be well ahead.

And outsmarting the enemy is supposed to be the function of the DDB which is empowered by law to “be the policy-making and strategy-formulating body in the planning and formulation of policies and programs on drug prevention and control.”

When I was interior secretary and concurrent chairman of National Peace and Order Council and Dangerous Drugs Board from 2001 to 2004, I set in place a system for identification of suspected drug dealers down to the barangay level. Anti-Drug Abuse Councils were activated at the barangay, municipal, city, and provincial levels, generating grassroots intelligence subjected to constant validation.

Such validation not only looked into authenticity and correctness of grassroots intelligence, but also led to the highest number of arrests and cases filed against drug pushers, distributors, and manufacturers, and the most shabu labs raided and dismantled.

I also made sure that law enforcers attended court hearings of drug-related cases lest they face charges. Big cases were monitored with the Justice Department to ensure success in prosecution because we knew that if the legal process becomes flawed, when cases are “fixed” and authorities fail in their job, the people behind the proliferation of illegal drugs would never be deterred.

If fully utilized, the DDB can be very effective in the war on drugs. While the President is overall-in-charge for the execution of all laws, including those related to the anti-drugs campaign, it is the DDB—which is directly under the Office of the President—that is tasked under RA 9165 to craft policies and strategies to control and prevent illegal drugs, and implemented through the PDEA.

The DDB is a high-powered organization composed of 17 members, nine of whom belong to President Duterte’s Cabinet – the secretaries of the Departments of the Interior and Local Government, Justice, Health, National Defense, Finance, Labor and Employment, Social Welfare and Development, Foreign Affairs, and Education. Aside from the PDEA chief, other members are the heads of the Commission on Higher Education and National Youth Commission, the national president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, and the national president of the Philippine Association of Social Workers Inc.

With such brilliant minds in the DDB, one can indeed assume there’s no way that they could be outsmarted by drug syndicates.

With its task to “formulate, develop, and establish a comprehensive, integrated, unified, and balanced national drug abuse prevention and control strategy,” the DDB can be a very powerful tool against the proliferation of illegal drugs.

Yet, despite the enactment of RA 9165, the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 which created the DDB, the anti-drugs campaign continues to be plagued by serious mistakes.

If there are inherent flaws which are causing daunting setbacks to the drug war, would enacting a new law be the answer?

My good friend, Sen. Vicente Sotto III, once told me in my Teleradyo program Sagot Ko ‘Yan (8 to 9 a.m. Sundays) of his proposal on how to go about waging the war on drugs with utmost efficiency and effectiveness: Dissolve both the Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) and Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) and merge their functions to create the Presidential Anti-Drug Authority.

He said that had RA 9165, which he also authored, been implemented properly and consistently, the drug menace would not have grown enormously. He said there was no consistency in making the law function. “The law is already good but it is implemented every now and then, depending on the leadership. There are times it would be prioritized, other times it wouldn’t.”

Sen. Sotto said his proposal to aims to “further strengthen our fight against illegal drugs by unifying the four major programs — enforcement, prosecution, prevention, and rehabilitation — into a single government agency… Since these four have to be in sync, a supervisory agency has to step in in order to ensure that the concerned government agencies mandated to perform several duties under RA 9165 are doing the same satisfactorily.”

Perhaps it’s time to act on his bill and enact a new law.

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