Senators say war on drugs not a failure but a ‘constant battle’

Aika Rey
Senators say war on drugs not a failure but a ‘constant battle’
'War versus drugs fails only when you stop fighting. It's a constant battle vs drug dealers, drug dependents, corrupt officials, and cerebrally-challenged critics,' says Senate President Vicente Sotto III

MANILA, Philippines – Senators on Monday, January 6, said the administration’s war on drugs is not a failure, rather a “constant battle.”

On Monday, Vice President Leni Robredo released her assessment of the anti-drug campaign, based on her brief stint as co-chair of the anti-drug body, and gave it a mark of “1 out of 100.” She said law enforcement agents were only able to seize a dismal 1% of the total supply of illegal drugs in the country in the past 3 years.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III, speaking from his experience as former head of the Dangerous Drugs Board, said Robredo’s report had “valid points” but failed to mention recommendations on prevention.

“Some very valid points but, much like the executive department, they fail to highlight the main issue of prevention. I keep on harping, ‘The day we stop buying is the day they stop selling!'” Sotto said. 

 

Still, the Senate President maintained the war on drugs was not a total failure.

“War versus drugs fails only when you stop fighting. It’s a constant battle vs drug dealers, drug dependents, corrupt officials, and cerebrally-challenged critics,” Sotto told reporters, taking a swipe at those critical of the President’s war on drugs.

Senator Panfilo Lacson acknowledged that the administration should have shifted strategy toward the supply side of the problem – the same as his advice to Robredo during her brief stint as co-chair of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (ICAD) in late 2019. (READ: After 3 years, Duterte gov’t still has to rid over 17,000 barangays of drugs)

“The war against illegal drugs is a continuing fight and, therefore, I would rather say, it has not been successful enough, rather than call it a failure,” said Lacson, a former top cop during the Estrada administration.

Lacson added that the administration should have gone after the big suppliers: “Intelligence, being the prime mover of all law enforcement operations, should be given utmost priority, and a no-mercy policy against corrupt anti-drug law enforcement operatives must be implemented immediately.”

Senator Aquilino Pimentel III, an ally of the President, agreed on Robredo’s report that law enforcement agents should go after the big fish. Pimentel posed questions as to where illegal drugs come from, who brings it in, and if the government has done anything to prevent such shipments from coming into the country.

“Enforce all of our existing laws against all of those who violate them. But the best men [or] women must be assigned to solve the problem of supply,” Pimentel said.

Aside from giving the anti-drug campaign a low mark, Robredo also noted that the DDB, and not the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, should be heading ICAD. Robredo said that the DDB has the capacity to plan a more comprehensive anti-drug program.

‘Destroying government image’

Meanwhile, Senator Ronald dela Rosa cast doubt on Robredo’s assessment, pointing out that the Vice President had previously claimed she could’t access data on the drug war.

“Sabi n’ya walang datos or kulang-kulang ang data na available from the government pertaining to the accomplishments on the war on drugs. Ngayon, mag-present s’ya na 1% lang ng drugs at drug money ang na-confiscate. Saan galing ‘yung data niya?” Dela Rosa said.

(She said there were no data on the accomplishments of the war on drugs or that the data were incomplete. Now, she’s presenting that only 1% of the total drugs and drug money has been confiscated. Where did she get the data?)

Dela Rosa speculated that Robredo only wanted to the destroy the “good image” of the government, just as she did whenever she criticized the Duterte administration for the extrajudicial killings.

“Baka ang pinipili lang n’ya na data ay ‘yung nakakasira sa gobyerno at ayaw niya ng data na gumaganda ang imahe ng gobyerno. Like doon sa ini-insist n’ya sa abroad na mahigit 20,000 na ang EJK victims sa war on drugs at ayaw n’yang tanggapin ang real numbers na 6,000-plus deaths from the government,” said Dela Rosa, the architect of the war on drugs when he was the Philippine National Police chief.

(Maybe she selects only the data that destroys the image of the government, and she didn’t want the data that paints a good image of the government. Like when she insisted overseas that there were over 20,000 victims of extrajudicial killings and she didn’t want to accept the 6,000-plus deaths data from the government.)

The Vice President was barely getting started co-heading ICAD when President Rodrigo Duterte fired her on November 24, 2019. The Vice President took the highly politicized post for only 18 days. (READ: The gamble of Leni Robredo)

Duterte had offered the post to Robredo to give her a “taste” of the work, as a longtime critic of the war on drugs.

According to government tally, at least 5,500 suspects had been killed by cops after allegedly “fighting back” during anti-drug operations. Human rights groups, however, estimate the kill tally to have reached over 30,000, including killings inspired by Duterte’s war on drugs. (READ: Duterte says his only ‘sin’ is extrajudicial killings) – Rappler.com

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Aika Rey

Aika Rey is a business reporter for Rappler. She covered the Senate of the Philippines before fully diving into numbers and companies. Got tips? Find her on Twitter at @reyaika or shoot her an email at aika.rey@rappler.com.