All anti-drug operations are ‘high-risk’ missions—PNP, PDEA

September 18, 2019

CITING the death of 50 Philippine National Police personnel and 19 agents of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency in gun battles with armed and defiant drug traffickers across the country from July 2016 to date, the PNP and PDEA leaderships have cited anew the need for their agents to be fully-protected each time they go on ‘high-risk’ missions to arrest drug trafficking and abuse in the land despite criticisms from some quarters.

PNP chief General Oscar D. Albayalde, said the 50 policemen killed while engaged in anti-narcotics operations since the start of the Duterte administration is enough proof that drug suspects put up an armed resistance once cornered.

“Fifty police officers killed is perhaps the painful proof that our detractors need for them to accept the fact that slain drug suspects indeed put up violent resistance to evade the law. Or do they want more dead lawmen to convince them some more?” Albayalde previously said as he cited official PNP and PDEA records on their drug casualties.

The latest policeman to be killed in an anti-drug operation was 37-year old Senior Master Sergeant Conrado Cabigao, a member of the Rizal Police Provincial Office who was shot during a buy-bust operation in Rodriguez, Rizal in June. Cabigao left behind a wife and two kids following the bloody operation which turned controversial after a 3-year old girl said to have been used by her father as a ‘human shield’ was also shot and killed during the sting along with two armed suspects.

For his part, PDEA chair, Director General Aaron N. Aquino stressed the high risk being faced by his men and all other government anti-narcotics officers in the ongoing war on drugs.

“For years, the campaign against illegal drugs has remained a top government priority. But along the campaign to eradicate this social menace is the inherent danger faced by drug law enforcement officers. Any anti-drug operation, whether buy-bust, interdiction, or implementation of search warrant, is high risk because the targets of these operations are armed and will fight back. In these operations, our operatives are exposed to high level of danger,” the retired police general said.

Aquino pointed this out in view of the killing of PDEA Agent Jack Roland Bastatas during an anti-narcotics operation in Ipil, Zamboanga Sibugay two Mondays ago. Three heavily-armed suspected drugs traffickers who opened fire at a vehicle carrying Bastatas and a policeman were also killed when officers retaliated.

Bastatas died while being taken to a local hospital while Police Corporal Richie Janeo of the Police  Office 9’s Regional Drug Enforcement Unit was hit by a bullet in his left ankle. A 4th suspect was arrested and is now facing a string of criminal charges.

“The susceptibility of PDEA agents to harmful attacks is always present in the conduct of supply reduction, demand reduction and harm reduction efforts to minimize, if not eliminate, the drug menace nationwide. Most of these high-value targets are often members of armed groups or are connected with powerful and influential individuals,” Aquino said.

“Our drug law enforcement officers or agents are fully trained to conduct anti-drug operations. However, during these operations where there is a firefight, there is a chance that they will be wounded, or worse, killed,” he added.

Aquino cited an instance in Lanao province in October 2018 where five PDEA agents were ambushed and killed, while one was fatally wounded after the conduct of a lecture.

Based on PDEA’s record since 2008, 19 PDEA agents have died during anti-drug operations, with 12 in Mindanao.

The PDEA  leadership lauded the agents for their dedication, commitment in the performance of their duties and responsibilities despite the high risk they face every time they conduct anti-drug operations.

Aquino also pointed out that PDEA will continue to wage the war against illegal drugs with utmost dedication. “Kahit mahirap, kahit gaano kadelikado we will continue on with the fight until our last breath,” he said.

In the case of the fallen Cabigao, Gen. Albayalde said he did what he was trained to do before he was killed. “That was to die with honor and dignity of having accomplished the mission of neutralizing the two drug personalities who were the targets of the operation,” the PNP chief said.

Despite the deaths of suspects in anti-drug operations, Gen. Albayalde had emphasized that the “paramount objective of any police intervention is to effect the arrest of the offender.

“And this is precisely the orientation of every police operation that resulted in the arrest of 240,565 drug suspects in 153,276 separate anti-drug operations,” he said citing PNP records from July 2016 to July this year.

PNP data also showed that during the period, 144 policemen have also been shot and wounded in going after armed drug personalities. A total of 6,600 drug suspects were killed during the period.