Here are reforms Robredo wants in Duterte gov’t’s drug war

Mara Cepeda

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Here are reforms Robredo wants in Duterte gov’t’s drug war
From scrapping tokhang to giving more powers to the AMLC to go after drug lords, Vice President Leni Robredo publicizes her drug war recommendations

FROM HER TIME IN ICAD. Vice President Leni Robredo gestures as she discusses her suggestions to reform the war on drugs on January 6, 2020. Photo by OVP

MANILA, Philippines – Vice President Leni Robredo flunked the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte in its fight against illegal drugs in the country. 

Robredo, whom Duterte fired as Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (ICAD) co-chair after just 18 days on the job last year, finally publicized her findings as well as her recommendations to improve the anti-narcotics campaign on Monday, January 6. 

Citing data given to her during her brief time in the ICAD, the Vice President gave a “1 out of 100” score to the bloody drug war because authorities were able to recover only 1% of the total shabu being consumed nationwide and were only able to seize just 1% of the dirty drug money being circulated across the country. 

But Robredo dedicated much of her 40-page ICAD co-chair report to detailing her suggestions on how the Duterte government can improve its campaign to end the drug menace.

Her office sent a copy of this report to Malacañang Monday morning. 

“Through the presentation of the findings and recommendations contained in this Report, the hope is for our focus to be directed to the true and common enemy: the continued proliferation of illegal drugs that destroys the lives and futures of many Filipino families,” said the former ICAD co-chair.

From scrapping the controversial Oplan Tokhang to giving more powers to the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) to directly go after drug lords who launder money, here are the Vice President’s drug war recommendations:

Problem: Creating ICAD is a “step in the right direction” but there is a lack of strategic leadership while the participation of member-agencies in the anti-drug body is not equal.

Proposed solutions:

  • Make the Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) chief, not the director-general of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), the chair of ICAD.

When he created the ICAD in 2017, the President designated the director-general of PDEA, an agency focused on the law enforcement side of the drug war, as ICAD head instead of the DDB, which is mandated to be a policy-making and strategy-formulating body on drug prevention and control.

Robredo believes the DDB chair is more equipped to craft a comprehensive program for ICAD’s operations and to ensure other aspects of the drug war apart from enforcement – justice, advocacy, rehabilitation, and reintegration – are not neglected

  • Appoint a commander to the National Anti-Illegal Drug Task Force mandated to be formed under ICAD.

Robredo believes activating this still-untapped task force under ICAD would help streamline and harmonize all anti-drug operations of law enforcement agencies. She also recommended that the task force and its commander regularly submit a quarterly report made available to the public so the ICAD “has accountability on its own.” 

  • Allow civil society groups and local government units (LGUs) to be part of ICAD.

The Vice President said ICAD’s policy and strategy discussions would be more “enriched” if civil society groups and LGUs become part of the anti-drug body, as the nature of their work requires them to work closely with individual citizens. 

Problem: Metrics in determining success of drug war are faulty because there is no baseline data.

Proposed solutions:

  • Complete the government’s baseline data on the number of drug dependents, then create a system to track individuals after their arrest or surrender. 

Robredo said the DDB should continue conducting its survey on drug prevalence in the country every 3 years.

The data in the Department of the Interior and Local Government’s newly launched Anti-Illegal Drugs Information System should also be updated and made more comprehensive to cover the current status of recovering drug addicts who were either arrested or who voluntarily surrendered to authorities.  

“As emphasized in the previous reports to the President, without standard and harmonized baseline information, there will be no benchmark for measuring the success of the programs,” said the Vice President.

  • Separate drug users from pushers in processing arrests and surrenders. 

The Vice President said doing so would make it easier for the government to separately track the number of drug users and pushers. 

Problem: The drug war has “lopsided” priorities and is largely focused on going after street-level drug users and peddlers

Proposed solutions:

  • Realign funds under the annual national budget to support the entire campaign against drugs, removing the imbalance between allocations for law enforcement and rehabilitation of drug addicts.
  • Before the DDB declares a barangay as drug-free, there should be proper screening and provision of interventions to drug surrenderees. (READ: After 3 years, Duterte gov’t still has to rid over 17,000 barangays of drugs)
  • Duterte should certify as urgent the passage of bills institutionalizing the Anti-Drug Abuse Council (ADAC) and Anti-Drug Abuse Office (ADAO) in all levels of local government.
  • Duterte should also certify as urgent the measure that would formally create the community-based drug rehabilitation program in all barangays nationwide.
  • Stop requiring LGUs to give their list of drug surrenderers, as the practice “leads to unwillingness and fear on the part of the drug dependents.”
  • Amend the plea bargaining framework to ensure that drug dependents are screened and directed to appropriate interventions for rehabilitation.
  • Create a central database for all drug-related cases to guide courts and prosecutors in dealing with plea bargaining.
  • Adopt a unified manual for the investigation and prosecution of illegal drugs cases.
  • The DDB should prioritize to build more in-patient and out-patient drug rehabilitation facilities in areas where drug dependency is prevalent.
  • Establish targeted reintegration programs for former drug users and pushers who were “successfully rehabilitated.”
  • Because the spread of illegal drugs is rooted in poverty, anti-poverty programs should also target drug-infested areas. The government should also institute evidence-based drug prevention programs in schools and the communities.

Problem: Oplan Tokhang has become synonymous to extrajudicial killings.

Proposed solutions:

  • The Philippine National Police (PNP) should scrap Oplan Tokhang and leave drug interventions requiring house visits to local Anti-Drug Abuse Councils (ADAC) and the Anti-Drug Abuse Offices (ADAOs).

Robredo said the lack of operational guidelines for the police conducting tokhang “gave an opening for some unscrupulous elements to commit abuses that have made the implementation of the entire program controversial.” (READ: The Impunity Series)

The Vice President believes barangay officials are better suited to go door-to-door to convince drug addicts to change their ways, as local ADACs and ADAOs play a central role in all aspects of the anti-drug campaign in their respective communities.

  • Require the PNP to use body cameras during anti-drug operations.

Robredo said body cameras would allow the PNP to exact accountability from erring cops. But at the same time, innocent police officers would also have evidence against unwarranted accusations of abuse. 

  • Abusive cops should be punished, administratively and criminally.  

Both criminal and administrative cases filed against police officers found guilty of abuse should be “expeditiously” pursued by the government.

Robredo also wants the Duterte administration to act on a Senate committee report’s recommendation to file charges against former PNP chief Oscar Albayalde and the so-called “ninja cops.” 

The Ombudsman may also create a task force focused only on investigating and prosecuting drug-related abuses of public officials. 

  • Provide clear and updated numbers on the drug-related killings, both from legitimate police operations and vigilante-style killings.

The Vice President said family members of drug war victims, their lawyers, and even the general public should have access to this data. Denial of access, Robredo argued, “only serves to further aggravate suspicions of official misconduct and operational irregularity.” (READ: TokHang documents prove drug war caused cops to kill suspects – FLAG)  

Problem: The Duterte government committed a “massive failure” in constricting the supply of illegal drugs in the country. 

Proposed solutions:

  • Instead of just going after small-time drug users and pushers, the  government should shift the focus on drug supply constriction.

Citing the Philippine Anti-Illegal Drugs Strategy, Robredo said there are 4 major drug cartels operating in the country: the Chinese or Filipino-Chinese drug syndicates, African drug syndicates, the Mexican-Sinaloa drug cartel, and syndicates from the Golden Triangle or Myanmar, Laos, and Thailand. 

The Vice President said Duterte should consider working more closely with the governments of these foreign countries to restrict the drug supply entering the Philippines.

  • Give better equipment to law enforcement officers so they can go after high-value targets in the drug trade.

Robredo recommended deploying enough high-powered X-ray machines and drug-sniffing K-9 units in every airport and sea port in the country so authorities can immediately detect illegal drugs being smuggled into the Philippines. 

Security measures in prisons should be stricter so inmates would no longer have the capacity to run their drug trade from jail. (READ: With smuggled phones, drug lords ‘still control operations’ from Bilibid

“If the drug war is this administration’s main program, it must put money where its mouth is and support law enforcement officers who put their lives on the line to go after big drug lords and operators,” said the Vice President. 

  • Allow the AMLC to directly prosecute drug-related money laundering offenders. 

Robredo said the Office of the Solicitor General may already deputize the AMLC so it can already prosecute cases of money launderers. More budget should also be given to the AMLC so it can hire additional financial investigators for drug-related cases.  

Read the full copy of Robredo’s ICAD co-chair report below:

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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at or tweet @maracepeda.