By Francis Wakefield
The Philippine National Police, the Bureau of Customs (BOC), and even the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) might well be out of the picture as the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) took “sole jurisdiction” of the government’s war on drugs; but the military remains waiting in the wings.
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff General Eduardo Año reaffirmed yesterday the military’s commitment to the country’s war on illegal drugs, citing the February, 2017 Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the PDEA.
AFP Public Affairs Office Chief Marine Colonel Edgard Arevalo, said Año’s pronouncement puts in perspective the memorandum signed by President Duterte last week which tasked the PDEA as the sole agency to conduct the anti-illegal drugs campaign of the government.
“The AFP has always been in support role to PDEA, Philippine National Police (PNP) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) in any illegal drugs operations, unless we are otherwise requested to lead especially in conflict-affected areas,” Arevalo said.
The recent memorandum from the Commander in Chief signed on Oct. 10, 2017 directs the “PNP, NBI, Bureau of Customs, and all other government agencies to leave to the PDEA the conduct of all campaigns and operations.”
“In line with the February 2017 MOA, the AFP has been a significant force provider to the anti-illegal drugs operations, especially in conflict-affected areas, particularly where conditions for insurgency, secessionism, and terrorism persist,” Año said.
The AFP also expanded the Joint Counterintelligence Task Force (JCTF) NOAH, an ad hoc unit created and mandated by the AFP to conduct drugs-related counterintelligence operations.
NOAH assists law enforcement agencies in the identification, investigation, and neutralization of persons in the use, sale, manufacture, and distribution of illegal drugs.
Regional task groups under the AFP Unified Commands were also established to coordinate direct action, intelligence, legal support, and community relations to PDEA, as force employer, and its regional offices nationwide.
Recent data from the regional task groups show a total of 6,981 operations have been jointly conducted since July 2016 to September 2017, resulting to the arrest of 1,241 drugs suspects and killing of 146.
Joint raids of drug laboratories also yielded a total of P1.9-billion shabu manufacturing equipment, significantly crippling the production of methamphetamine in the country. More than 52 kilos of shabu were also confiscated in the operations.
PDEA satellite offices
Meanwhile, the lean but mean 1,100-strong PDEA will set up satellite offices at the BOC and the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) as it tries to maximize its efforts in the anti-illegal drug war.
PDEA Spokesman Derrick Carreon said it was discussed among officials of the BOC and the BuCor to put up PDEA offices in their offices “hopefully within the coming months.”
Carreon said PDEA is keen on putting up the dedicated offices in both agencies describing them as critical areas with the rampant drug-related incidents in these offices.
The undermanned agency has been hardpressed to solve the illegal drug riddle in the country.
In Manila, the official morgue of the NBI where bodies of supposed drug pushers and users killed in anti-narcotics operations of police are taken has noted the change in the climate of the war on drugs.
“From Monday up to Sunday, zero,” was the answer of Tom Z. Castro Jr., Archangel Memorial Chapels assistant officer-in-charge, when asked for the number of bodies brought in as a result of police encounters in Manila.
The funeral parlor receives all cadavers from police operations including those in drug operations.
At the height of the police campaign against illegal drugs, Castro recalled that about four or five bodies would be taken to the morgue in a day.
Then the number decreased in the later months with 10 bodies a week taken to the morgue. “Let’s say the other bodies were for medico-legal cases, but seven or eight of them were related to Oplan Tokhang,” he said.
Pau Ballesteros, a licensed embalmer, said that the largest number of bodies that he handled was 14 in just one night.
Although this week, Ballesteros has not handled any body from a police operation, he noted. (With reports from Chito A. Chavez and Dhel Nazario)