Dela Rosa to police critics: So you want drug lords to win this war?

BATANGAS, Philippines – “What do you want? What do they want to happen? The drug lords to win this war?”

Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa was incredulous on Wednesday, September 14, when asked about sentiments that the Philippines’ ongoing “war on drugs” is an “unwinnable war.”

“If this is not a winnable war by the government, does it mean to say that they want the drug lords to lord it over and be the winner in this war? How.... I don't know.... How frustrating other sectors can be. We are risking our lives, we are doing everything to solve this problem and yet they keep on telling us that this is an unwinnable war. Wow!” said Dela Rosa on the sidelines of a shooting competition in Lipa City.

Dela Rosa leads the PNP in its “invigorated” effort to rid the country of its drug problem. A “war on drugs” was among President Rodrigo Duterte’s key campaign promises that swept him into power during the 2016 presidential elections.

The police general, Duterte’s top choice to lead the police, has been hearing the charge against illegal drugs. At the same time, Dela Rosa has had to constantly defend the PNP from allegations that police themselves are sacrificing the rule of law in trying to curb the spread of illegal drugs.

On September 12, the Global Commission on Drug Policy released an open letter to Duterte, calling on him to end his current “bloody” strategy against illegal drugs.

“Mr. President, we believe that your current strategy also constitutes an unwinnable war, at a terrible cost to your population. It is not a question of choosing between human rights and the safety of your people, as you have claimed, but the means employed to address crime must not result in further crimes against individuals whose conduct often causes very little harm,” read the letter, penned by former Brazil president Fernando Cardoso, former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour, and entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson.

The letter added: “We acknowledge that your people are concerned with high crime and corrupt institutions; there is little evidence to show, however, that drugs represent the root of the widespread corruption and insecurity which your countrymen are concerned about.”

But Dela Rosa seemed unfazed by the Commission’s open letter and other similar sentiments. 

“They have to come here to the Philippines to see for themselves and feel it for themselves. They just keep on criticizing, coming from the outside. You should come here and feel the.... Be present in Philippine soil and be with the people and ask the people how do they feel with what the police are doing right now,” he told media.

Besides, noted Dela Rosa, the public – meaning the Filipino people – is still on their side. 

The Global Commission on Drug Policy was established in 2011 and counts political leaders and “leading thinkers” from different countries and political leanings. The Commission “builds on the successful experience of the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy convened by former Presidents Cardoso of Brazil, Gaviria of Colombia and Zedillo of Mexico,” according to its website.

Debates and discussions on different policies against illegal drugs is its bread and butter.

On Wednesday, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein called out President Duterte for his "lack of understanding of our human rights institutions and the principles which keep societies safe."

International criticism 

It’s not the first time the Philippines has been criticized by an international body for its “war on drugs.” The United Nations (UN) and the United States earlier expressed concern over the rise in deaths attributed to the war – both kills by police and apparent vigilante groups.

Local politicians and groups have also expressed alarm over the rising death toll, which has gone past the 3,500 mark, 10 weeks since the “war” started.

Since day 1, Dela Rosa has had to defend the PNP and government from allegations that it was condoning the spate of unsolved killings. He reiterated this stand on Wednesday.

Kung concerned sila, concerned rin ako ah (If they’re concerned, I’m concerned too). Concerned rin ako (I’m also concerned) because they are Filipino people. They are not American people. They are Filipino people that are being killed. We are Filipinos. We have to protect our own people,” said Dela Rosa of the rising death toll.

He added: “'Yun nga lang (That’s the thing), it's very sad this has to happen. We are at war on drugs. And a war is not.... A war is a war. It can be dirty, alam mo na (you know).”

Dela Rosa said the government is attacking the problem on both the supply and demand sides. The PNP chief said supply lines have been cut down by 70%, although he did not say where he gleaned the figure from.

The demand side, he said, was also being addressed. “That’s gone down even more because a lot surrendered and promised to stop. A lot have gone through rehab, although admittedly we lack rehab centers but a lot have already changed,” he said.

Dela Rosa was referring to “Oplan TokHang,” the police’s main operation to make drug users and pushers surrender. “TokHang” is an amalgamation of the Bisaya words “toktok (to knock)” and “hangyo (to plead).”

More than 710,000 drug users and pushers have “surrendered” under the operation.

Dela Rosa has cited the number of “surrenderees” as proof that the government’s anti-drugs campaign does not revolve around killing drug suspects. –