Respect for human rights to pervade ‘chilling’ drug war

POLICE are under orders to fully pursue the government’s war on drugs particularly targeting high-value targets (HVTs) while putting a premium on the protection of human rights, the Philippine National Police spokesman said on Thursday.

“Let me assure the public that the PNP will continue waging a massive crackdown against illegal drug trafficking and abuse in accordance with our operational procedures and with utmost respect for human rights. That’s the policy,” said Senior Superintendent Bernard M. Banac amid President Duterte’s word that the anti-drug crackdown in the remaining three years of his presidency will be more “chilling” and “bloody.”

According to Banac, PNP chief Director General Oscar D. Albayalde has emphasized the need to go after HVTs specifically drug lords and manufacturers in compliance with the presidential directive.

“Definitely, our campaign will be more intense but with respect for human rights. It’s the reason why all our anti-narcotics officers are required to undergo regular lectures on the Police Operational Procedures, that’s why many of our officers are now wearing body cameras,” the official said.

Banac, Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency spokesman Director Derrick Arnold C. Carreon and Presidential Communications Office Assistant Secretary Ana Marie Rafael-Banaag recently presented the latest RealNumbers PH figures.

The latest government figures showed that from July 1, 2016 to last January 31, government agents led by the PNP, the PDEA and the National Bureau of Investigation have conducted a total of 119,841 anti-narcotics operations which led to the arrest of 170,689 drug offenders and the killing of 5,176 armed drug suspects during gunbattles with undercover officers.

The period also saw the confiscation of P25.94 billion worth of dangerous drugs of which P19.14 billion was shabu or the so-called poor man’s cocaine, the dismantling of 287 drug dens and 14 shabu laboratories and storage facilities; the arrest of 627 government workers including 295 government employees, 263 elected officials and 69 uniformed personnel; and the rescue of 2,016 children in illegal drug activities, 1,089 of them described as pushers, 533 for possession of dangerous drugs, 271 for using drugs and 105 others for either visiting, helping maintain or acting as an employee of a drug dive.

Carreon said that during the same period, 11,080 of the country’s total 42,044 barangays have been already declared as drug-cleared with very high hopes that the remaining 21,974 other barangays will be cleared before the end of the Duterte administration.

BACKS DUTERTE’S 7-8M ESTIMATE OF DRUG USERS

The three officials likewise backed President Duterte’s estimate that drug users in the country had reached around 7-8 million citing the Commander-in-Chief’s “wide access to information.”

“We know for a fact that the President has a wide access of information, he has unlimited sources of intelligence so the President came up with this estimate,” Banac said.

“We subscribe to that estimate because the number goes down and goes up every now and then. The estimate could be attributed to the number of users from the past to present because we know that a number is still unaccounted for,” he added.

Banac also said that it would be up for the President to decide on whether to release the list of “narco-politicians” before the May 13 national and local elections.     According to him, the PNP would always support the president’s decision on the matter.

Rafael explained that the number of users vary almost every day since there are the so-called “mild, moderate and severe” drug users.

However, the three, joined by NBI spokesman, lawyer Ferdinand Lavin said the latest numbers would pose a challenge to them. “There are less deaths, more arrests nowadays. We take it as a challenge. You know that the President is a great strategist, a great tactician, baka sinasabi niya we have to do more,” he said.

Banac said that they take the President’s latest figures as a “decision-making tool for us to perform more.”

Carreon meanwhile said that only the Dangerous Drugs Board has the authority to conduct a nationwide drug survey. He also said that despite the recent discovery of nearly P1 billion worth of cocaine in the country’s eastern seaboards, the fact remains that 97 percent of the country’s drug users prefer shabu. Carreon said that a total of 175 kilograms of cocaine worth P920 million have been recovered in the eastern seaboard in 11 incidents this year.

Carreon said that the recovery of cocaine in the country is really not new citing similar incidents in Samar in 2009 and in 2001. In 2009, an estimated one ton of cocaine was believed to have been dumped into the local waters by a “mother ship” trying to elude pursuing United States Drug Enforcement Administration agents.

“They are testing the waters. Fortunately, we have an expeditious way to destroy them,” said the PDEA spokesman. According to Carreon, samples of the seized cocaine will be provided to the US-DEA and the Australian Federal Police for DNA examination while the rest will be destroyed on orders of PDEA chair Director General Aaron N. Aquino.