By Atty. Joey D. Lina
At a glance, President Duterte’s Oct. 10 memo ordering the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency to be on top of the drug war seems good news to critics of the bloody campaign of the Philippine National Police.
But watching the President on TV discussing his latest order on the government’s anti-illegal drugs campaign, one could feel some semblance of sarcasm. “Ang PDEA, walang patay. Konti lang, isa-isa lang, wounded in action, dalawa. So ibigay na natin sa PDEA kasi lesser ang patay (Let us give it to PDEA because they have lesser deaths),” Mr. Duterte said on Oct. 12 in Malacanang. “So better for the bleeding hearts and the media, I hope I will satisfy you.”
It certainly is better for those critical of the thousands of killings associated with the drug war that have caused so much international embarrassment, with the image of the PNP taking a beating worldwide especially after the murders of a Korean businessman right inside Camp Crame and that of minors like Kian delos Santos.
And for those who want the drug campaign to be in accordance with the law, the memo is a welcome move because it adheres to RA 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 that mandates PDEA to be “the implementing arm of the Board (Dangerous Drugs Board or DDB) and shall be responsible for the efficient and effective law enforcement of all the provisions on any dangerous drug and/or controlled precursor and essential chemical as provided in this Act.”
That PDEA should be on top of the anti-drug campaign is clearly provided in Sec. 86 of the law which states that “when the investigation being conducted by the NBI, PNP or any ad hoc anti-drug task force is found to be a violation of any of the provisions of this Act, the PDEA shall be the lead agency.”
From the phrase “PDEA shall be the lead agency,” one can surmise that other law enforcement agencies would be working under the supervision or command of PDEA. But the way the President’s memo is worded, PDEA is not a lead agency but rather the “sole agency” which shall be responsible for “the conduct of all campaigns and operations against all those who, directly or indirectly, and in whatever manner or capacity, are involved in or connected with, illegal drugs.”
At first I thought some details in the memo just needed clarification, considering that it certainly seems impossible for PDEA – with its total manpower now numbering only 1,898 personnel – to act as sole agency to carry out the gargantuan task of tackling the drug menace nationwide.
What about the provision in the law that says other law enforcement agencies “shall continue with the performance of their task as detail service with the PDEA, subject to screening, until such time that the organizational structure of the Agency is fully operational and the number of graduates of the PDEA Academy is sufficient to do the task themselves” as provided in Sec. 86 of RA 9165?
But Mr. Duterte was adamant that PDEA must now act alone. In a PTV interview aired last Friday, he said: “[In] implementation of RA 9165, ang ginawa ko tinanggal ko lahat (I removed all others)… Sabi ko sa pulis huwag na kayong makialam, pag may habulan diyan at nagsabi droga ito, umalis kayo. Hayaan mo sila. (I told police not to interfere anymore. If you see a chase and they say it’s drugs, get out of the way. Leave them alone).”
Mr. Duterte added, “So kung may mamatay, kayong mga pari, tuloy kayo sa PDEA…doon kayo magtanong… ‘Yung mga pulis, pang ano na lang kayo, pang kidnapping, estafa, mga nakawan… Alam mo kung bakit? ‘Yun ang gusto nyo, kasi pinagbibintangan ninyo ang gobyerno sa halos lahat. Kaya isa na lang. Magusap tayo next year. (If someone dies, you priests go to PDEA and ask there. The police will just handle kidnapping, estafa, thefts… You know why? Because that’s what you want, you blame government for everything. So only one (PDEA) [will handle drug problem], Let’s talk next year).”
Asked by interviewer Erwin Tulfo how the war on drugs can still be fought, Mr. Duterte said: “Kung hindi kaya ng PDEA, ewan ko kung sino makakaya niyan. Wala na. (If PDEA cannot do it, I don’t know who else can).”
But how do you expect to win the war? Tulfo asked. The President’s answer was revealing: “Frankly, I expect to lose it.” But many don’t think he was really serious in his reply. Otherwise, he would not have issued the written memo as he could have just given verbal instructions.
With the President’s statements, things might appear bleak. And it might seem PDEA is doomed to fail as the Oct. 10 memo appears to have superseded existing memorandum agreements for other law enforcement agencies to extend all necessary support to PDEA as it carries out its role as lead agency in the drug war.
Yet there’s still much hope, especially with what Duterte also said: “Kayang kaya sigurong PDEA, mahusay si Aaron Aquino… talagang mahusay ‘yan (I think PDEA can manage, [PDEA chief] Aaron Aquino is really efficient), but whether his organization can cope up, that is something else.”
Looking at the bright side, PDEA has been given another opportunity to go all out and strive for excellence in fulfilling its tasks under the law. And this is also the perfect opportunity for PDEA to intensify its lobbying to get full budgetary support from Congress to strengthen the agency’s capabilities and make its organizational structure fully operational.
For 15 years now, the PDEA has not grown and developed as intended by RA 9165. Now can be an opportune time for PDEA to really shine as the implementing arm of DDB which really ought to be the top strategist and overall-in-charge of the drug war as I wrote in previous columns.
It might be hard to see it now, but there’s always the chance that the Oct. 10 memo could change the course of history in the bloody drug war that has been pulling the administration down.