Incoming DILG chief readies list of local officials in drug trade

Pia Ranada
Incoming DILG chief readies list of local officials in drug trade
Mike Sueno, incoming interior secretary, says he and his team are gathering evidence against the alleged drug-tainted local executives down to the barangay level

DAVAO CITY, Philippines – As a first step in his anti-drug campaign inspired by President-elect Rodrigo Duterte, incoming interior secretary Ismael “Mike” Sueno is preparing a top-to-bottom list of local government officials allegedly involved in the illicit trade.

“We are coming up with a list of local executives, up to the barangays, who are involved with drugs,” Sueno told Rappler on the sidelines of a business forum in Davao City on Tuesday, June 21.

The list is similar to one being compiled by incoming Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa, of policemen allegedly involved in drugs.

While Sueno declined to give the number of names in the list, he said there are “many” LGU officials, particularly barangay captains, who are believed to be involved in the illegal trade.

“Some of them have become drug lords, many of them are into pushing drugs, some of them are protecting drug pushers, drug lords,” he said.

Many of these alleged tainted LGU officials are in Mindanao and Luzon. There are also some in Visayas, especially in Region 6 or Western Visayas, he said.

Sueno and his team are now gathering evidence so they can file cases against them.

The Duterte administration, he revealed, will use a different strategy for those who cannot be pinned down due to lack of evidence.

‘Yung mga local executives na mahihirapan kami to come up with evidences related to drugs, sabi sa amin, halungkatin namin baka may cases sila, administrative or otherwise not related to drugs. Doon namin sila birahin,” said Sueno.

(Regarding those local executives we would have difficulty coming up with drug-related evidence, we were told, do some spadework as they may have other cases, like administrative ones or otherwise not related to drugs. That’s where we’ll hit them.)

Focus on barangays

Sueno also talked about his plans for the DILG. He said he would shift the focus to barangays, the smallest political unit in the Philippines.

“The past administration focused on provinces, cities, municipalities, especially with the seal of good governance, but we have not gone down to the barangays yet so we will focus more on the barangays,” he said.

Sueno wants to empower barangays because he believes they are critical to Duterte’s fight against drugs, crime, and corruption.

Duterte has previously said that the war against drugs needs to be waged at the barangay level. He intends to do this by arming people at the barangay level to help barangay officials catch drug pushers and members of drug syndicates.

Sueno and outgoing Interior Secretary Mel Senen Sarmiento have begun the transition process. Sueno was in Manila from June 12 to 17 to meet with outgoing officials.

Sueno’s ability to coordinate with the Philippine National Police, an agency under the DILG, will also be crucial to his anti-drug campaign.

He said he “likes” incoming PNP chief Dela Rosa. “I think we will work well together.”

Eyeing more rehab centers

But Sueno also wants to address the other side of the anti-drug equation: the drug addicts.

In South Cotabato, where Sueno had served as governor, close to 200 drug addicts have surrendered to the police, he said.

The phenomenon is happening in other places in the country as well, such as in Quezon City where some 300 drug addicts and pushers have surrendered.

Sueno said this could create a problem of exacerbating congestion in municipal jails. The best way to deal with this eventuality, he said, is to place drug addicts in rehabilitation centers instead.

His vision of these centers is tied up with education initiatives. He wants drug addicts to undergo training under the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA).

“Initially, we thought of training them through TESDA. Those who have not graduated yet, we will have them educated through the Alternative Learning System,” he said.

For this, he will need the help of incoming education secretary Leonor Briones.

“We will consult DepEd also on how we can put up rehabilitation centers in different regions, starting with Region 6,” he said.

The incoming PNP chief has identified Region 6 or Western Visayas as one of the drug hot spots in the country. – Rappler.com

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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.