By Merlina Hernando-Malipot
She stressed this when she met members of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (ICAD) at the Quezon City Reception House, her first act since she was appointed by President Duterte as the government’s co-drug czar.
Recognizing that drug addiction is a serious problem that our country is facing, Robredo said she is all for a strong national policy against illegal drugs and she supports a vigorous anti-illegal drugs campaign.
“However, I also feel that we should do things right – everything that we should be doing should be within the bounds of the rule of law,” Robredo said. For her, the illegal drugs problem is not just a “problem of crime only.”
“Ang kalaban natin ay hindi kababayan natin, ang kalaban natin dito ay droga at dahil ang kalaban natin ay droga (Our enemies are not our countrymen, our enemy is drugs and since drugs is our enemy), we should also look at it not just using the lens of crime or criminal justice but using the lens of health and the fact that addiction is a medical and sociological problem,” Robredo said.
Thus, she is pushing for evidence-based strategy and approach in carrying out the war on illegal drugs under her watch.
In a press conference, Robredo gave a summary of what transpired during her meeting with Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) Director General Aaron Aquino, her ICAD co-chair, and other members of the task force which she described as more of a “listening exercise” for her.
“We still have many days ahead of us but this meeting was really a listening exercise for me,” she said.
Sharing same goal
Robredo noted that “despite our differences,” she would like to believe that the OVP and the other members of the ICAD share the same goal. “Iisa lang naman ang hangarin natin at yun ay ang maging matagumpay ang kampanya natin laban sa illegal na droga (We have a common objective and it is the success of the campaign against illegal drugs),” she said.
Given this situation, Robredo urged all ICAD members to unite and work together in the campaign against illegal drugs.
“I would like to believe that people would expect us to go beyond the differences and for us to work together,” she said.
Robredo said the meeting with ICAD members gave her an idea “where am I to start” since before her appointment as ICAD co-chair, “I did not have access to the final data that you had access to.”
Robredo, however, reiterated her earlier observations on the country’s war on illegal drugs.
“I have always been very vocal about my stand, the President has – on various occasions – expressed frustration on the war on drugs,” she said. “I want to understand where we are lacking because all of the agencies have been pouring tremendous efforts and resources already for this campaign and yet, the number of drug dependents remains high,” she added.
As she suggested earlier, Robredo said this is the best time to reassess the campaign. “I know that we already had so many gains, many accomplishments but despite the many gains and accomplishments, marami pa din tayong kailangan gawin (we still have lots of things to do) and I am hoping to look at the effective strategies that we can continue and reconsider those that do not give us desirable results,” she said.
Robredo also emphasized that she has “always been very vocal about my opposition against the killings that accompanied Operation Tokhang.” She noted that because of the “many instances of killings that accompanied Operation Tokhang, it has reached a certain level of notoriety that when we say “Tokhang” it means a war against the poor.”
So now is the time to shift gears and opt for a campaign “that is more effective without senseless deaths,” Robredo said.
She said being appointed co-chair of ICAD is an “opportunity to contribute in whatever way I can.” She noted that when the President appointed her to the position, “I want to look at it as a signal that the President is open to listen to a fresh perspective about the entire campaign.”
“I also want to look at is as an agreement that it is time for us to objectively assess what we have been doing over the past years,” Robredo said. “Everyone else has been contributing to this and their efforts are all commendable but for me, when there are senseless killings, all these efforts are being diminished,” she ended.
NCRPO to cooperate
Meanwhile, Police Brig. Gen. Debold Sinas, regional director of the National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO), vowed on Friday to abide with whatever instructions will be issued by Robredo on the war on drugs.
Sinas also agreed with the preference of Robredo on the possibility that drug war casualties be diminished, if not totally avoided, except if the lives of the police officers are at risk.
“Ayaw din namin ng patayan (We also don’t killings). But it is inherent for the police to defend themselves. Kapag kami ay pinutukan ng una (If we are shot first), we have to defend ourselves,” Sinas explained.
“We will abide with whatever instructions of the Vice President but hindi naman siguro ipinagbawal sa manual namin (it is not probably prohibited in our manual) to defend ourselves in case na may barilan (if there’s shooting involved),” he added.
When Robredo accepted Duterte’s offer for her to be the drug czar, she said that the most important thing she considered was stopping the killings of innocent people and hold all of those responsible accountable.
As of October 31 2019, ICAD figures show a total of 5,779 drug suspects have died in police operations since the drug war started in June, 2016.
This was lower than the figure released by the Philippine National Police (PNP) in June, 2019, which is 6,600.
Not included in the figure are the cases involving unidentified gunmen, often motorcycle-riding assailants, who kill drug suspects or dump their bodies with placards that states their involvement in illegal activities.
The PNP has repeatedly claimed that drug suspects are often killed during operations because they resist arrest.
Sinas maintained that the current anti-illegal drug operations of police officers in Metro Manila are “regular.”
To prove that, Sinas said he is willing to make arrangements for Robredo to join the operations to see for herself the police in action.
“Kapag available siya (If she’s available), we will [make arrangements],” he said.
“But of course, she’s the VP so importante po ang security baka mamaya hindi pumayag ang security detail niya (her security is important and her detail might not allow her). There are operations na (that) we don’t sacrifice our leaders,” he added. (With a report from Martin Sadongdong)