By Raymund Antonio
As the country’s new drug czar, Vice President Leni Robredo wants advocates such as civil society and faith-based organizations to be part of the relentless campaign against illegal drugs.
The new co-chairperson of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (ICAD) recommended this during her first meeting on Friday with members of the anti-drug body.
“[I want] civil society organizations to be given a platform to participate,” Robredo said, noting that ICAD members in attendance were receptive to such suggestion.
The Vice President emphasized the anti-narcotics campaign will “benefit from broader coalition,” which includes the private sector.
President Rodrigo Duterte created the ICAD through Executive Order No. 15 to “ensure the effective conduct of all anti-illegal drug operations and arrest of high-value drug personalities.”
Robredo, who sat side by side her co-chair Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) Director General Aaron Aquino, presided over her first ICAD briefing at the Quezon City Reception House, where she holds office.
Present were ICAD members namely Dangerous Drugs Board chief Catalino Cuy, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, and Philippine National Police officer-in-charge Archie Gamboa, among others.
The meeting was a “listening exercise” for Robredo, who reminded law enforcement agencies to rethink their strategies to prevent “senseless killings.”
The Vice President has repeatedly condemned the deaths of drug suspects and other victims in the government’s bloody war against illegal drugs.
According to Robredo, the many senseless killings that accompanied Operation Tokhang have “reached a certain level of notoriety that meant a war against the poor.”
Oplan Tokhang (knock and plead), which rolled out under the Duterte administration, is a police operation that involves raiding drug suspects’ houses.
“Maybe it’s time for us to think about replacing the campaign that would be more effective so no one would die senselessly,” the Vice President said in her opening remarks.
A vocal critic of Oplan Tokhang, Robredo later told a media briefing her proposal to replace it with a new anti-illegal campaign was not taken up during their ICAD meeting.
“It was just laying the context; it was just laying the groundwork where I stood,” she said.
But the lady official said she will set an appointment to discuss the matter with DILG, PNP and other law enforcement agencies.
“I will be having small meetings with either the clusters or the agencies concerned,” Robredo said.
Among the top agenda of these meetings is also the reconciliation of the conflicting figures of the government in relation to the number of drug users in the country.
The DDB estimated there were 1.8 million drug dependents nationwide, but the ICAD is currently using the “working number” of 4 million, the Vice President noted.
“The 4 million was based on a different process that they followed to come up with the estimate. They based it on the number of surrenderees and Tokhang operations,” she said.
Robredo also cited the 7 to 8 million drug users, which came President Rodrigo Duterte himself.
“That is one of the things that I intend to discuss with the law enforcement cluster. I will ask for the explanation behind the numbers that are being given to us,” she said.