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MANILA, Philippines – President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s interior chief Benjamin “Benhur” Abalos Jr. faced the media for the first time in his new role on Monday, July 4, promising there would be no letup in the infamous drug war that was front and center during the administration of Rodrigo Duterte.
“The war against drugs will be as intensive as before on the basis of my oath as a public official in accordance with the Constitution,” Abalos said.
Here are some of his most notable pronouncements on the issue of narcotics during Monday’s press conference.
1. DILG will push for fewer case dismissals.
Before ascending to the top spot of the Department of the Interior and Local Government, Abalos had been a city mayor, as well as coordinator of local chief executives as head of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority. This gave him a closer look at how the drug war was implemented on the ground.
He said a major problem he saw was that probes into drug war-related deaths suffered a setback because of the lack of witnesses. A provision of the Dangerous Drugs Act requires an elected official (usually the barangay captain) and either a Department of Justice (DOJ) representative or a member of the media to serve as witnesses.
“What happens is, if you look at the fiscal, cases are dismissed. There’s a lack of witnesses,” Abalos said. “What my wife Menchie did in Mandaluyong [as mayor] was assign an employee to the fiscal’s office, and they will be the DOJ’s representative in all raids, they will be the one to testify.”
“I will go to each and every league of governors and mayors, ask them maybe [assign a person to always] testify just to satisfy [the requirement] of the Dangerous Drugs Act,” he added.
2. DILG will attempt to cleanse the police ranks, and give drug war cops more support.
Abalos promised to rid the Philippine National Police – which is under the DILG – of scalawags, although he claimed that they just comprise a small percentage of the entire police force.
“I will make sure [rogue police officers] will be stripped of their posts. I will make sure of that through the due process of the law,” he said. “Let’s just make sure that they really are the bad ones. Do not use the agency just to destroy people.”
Abalos also hoped for better protection for policemen against big-time drug syndicates.
“How much do policemen earn? One would have to get a lawyer, he will have to attend PLEB (People’s Law Enforcement Board) sessions. His wage will just be spent on legal fees,” Abalos said. “There must be a system here.”
Abalos added he would join some drug raids to motivate policemen.
3. Abalos says addressing social ills is important in the war on drugs.
Likening the anti-narcotics campaign to a tree, Abalos said, “Even if you cut the branches, a new branch will grow. Drug pushers are the branches. If they are jailed, someone might just replace them.”
“Let us help the police. We have to cut the root of the tree: unemployment, education, family,” he added.
Will it be as bloody as Duterte’s?
Duterte’s drug war had been bloody: 6,252 killed in police operations, based on government records, and over 30,000 based on estimates of human rights groups, if victims of vigilante-style killings are to be included.
Will that image of the war on drugs continue under a Marcos presidency? Abalos sidestepped the question and repeated an earlier rhetoric: “The drug war will be pursued relentlessly in accordance with the oaths I would be taking and on the basis of the Constitution.” – Rappler.com
*Quotes in Filipino were translated into English.