AS a rule, I take care to look at the statutory or constitutional basis in evaluating a policy or program of the government or those of its various departments and agencies, including the police and the armed forces.
Contrary to what some may have thought or presumed, President Duterte‘s war on drugs is not lawless. It is backed by law.
The President can plausibly say that in launching the war on illegal drugs upon his accession to the presidency on June 30, 2016, he was mainly implementing the mandate of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, or Republic Act 9165.
Enacted into law by the 12th Congress in June 2002, RA 9165 mandates the government to “pursue an intensive and unrelenting campaign against the trafficking and use of dangerous drugs and other similar substances.”
“Intensive” and “unrelenting” were the operative words at the launch of the drug campaign. “Killing“ became a defining quality 14 years later, when Duterte became the country’s 16th President.
Republic Act 9165
In searching for ways and means whereby the drug war can be reset and saved, it makes sense to return to the core provisions of the enabling act, and study the law and its history. The answer may not lie in writing a new law altogether, but in reinventing or amending the old and existing one.
The law that passed into DU 30’s hands at his inauguration was moribund, and was not being properly implemented. He brought to office a keen understanding and concern about the drug problem plaguing the entire country. He felt that not enough was being done, and that what was missing was toughness and determination by the national leadership.
The Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 is a consolidation of Senate Bill 1858 and House Bill 4433. It was enacted and passed by the Senate and the House of Representatives on May 30, 2002 and May 29, 2002, respectively. It was signed into law by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in June 2002.
RA 9165 repealed RA 6425, or the Dangerous Drugs Act of 1972. The law mandates the Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) to be the policy- and strategy-making body that plans and formulates programs on drug prevention and control.
Article 9, Section 77 of the law states that the DDB “shall develop and adopt a comprehensive, integrated, unified and balanced national drug abuse prevention and control strategy. It shall be under the Office of the President.”
The law also created the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) under the Office of the President. It serves as the implementing arm of the DDB; it is responsible for the efficient and effective law enforcement of all the provisions on any dangerous drugs, controlled precursors and essential chemicals as provided in the Act.
Article II of the law enumerated unlawful acts and corresponding penalties:
• Section 4 –Importation of dangerous drugs; penalty: life imprisonment to death with fines of P500,000 to P10,000,000.
• Section 5 –Sale, trading, administration, dispensation, delivery, distribution of dangerous drugs.
In summary, under RA 9165, those caught importing, selling, manufacturing, and using illegal drugs and its forms may be fined and imprisoned for at least 12 years or a lifetime, depending on the severity of the crime.
Since the original law was passed at a time when the death penalty was still applicable, it is the maximum punishment imposed by the law. This, however, is now moot, because the death penalty was abolished in 2006.
RA 9165 sounded very tough on paper. In reality, it had no teeth, for lack of proper implementation, according to the principal author of the drugs act in the Senate, Sen. and Majority Leader Vicente Sotto 3rd.
No proper implementation
Sotto says that had the law been implemented properly and consistently, the country’s drug problem would not be as widespread as it is now.
He explained: “The drug problem got worse because the law has not been properly implemented. Starting in 2002 until now, it has been like a roller coaster. It’s implemented every now and then, there are times it would be prioritized, there are times not. Execution is really the problem.”
Previous administrations had each their respective focus. President Duterte’s has changed the picture; his single agenda of fighting criminality has opened the floodgates to long neglected problems, and issues.
Foremost among these is the leadership problem plaguing both the DDB and PDEA. The two have been at loggerheads for reasons of politics and bureaucracy. The DDB chair has the rank of Cabinet secretary, while the PDEA Director General is considered an undersecretary. But since it is PDEA that implements the law and does the operations on the ground, Sotto says PDEA tends to reject being under the DDB.
Sotto has told Rappler, the online media website: “There’s a leadership problem. The PDEA and the DDB chairmen are not on good terms. Each of them has a feeling that they are not subservient to the other. So, what happens is that PDEA does not attend DDB meetings regularly. They share the same office, yet they are at odds. This has been going on for years.”
The intolerable situation is now ripe for correction by President Duterte, who is impatient for action and results in the anti-drugs campaign.
Since the drug war started the killing spree, most drug officials are wide awake now. They worry about whether they will still have their jobs tomorrow.
Time to amend the Drugs Act
New Zealand has amended its Misuse of Drugs Act (MODA) eight times in order to bring its drug policy up to speed with best practice in the world.
The Philippines should be bold in amending its Dangerous Drugs Act for the first time, for the worthy objective of making it more effective, humane and rational in bringing harmful drugs under control. Congress should take an interest in fixing RA 9165 because it is their creation and their contribution to drug control.
To fully correct the situation, Congress and the President should work together to amend RA 9165.
Among the issues they must tackle are:
1. How did the President transfer drug enforcement from PDEA to the Philippine National Police (PNP), without violating RA 9165? How do they return the responsibility to PDEA?
2. Who is subject to oversight by Congress: PDEA and DDB, which are not doing their duties and responsibilities under the law, or the PNP, which has done most of the killing in the drug war?
3. How do they make the law effective in fighting the illegal drug problem in the country?
If Congress will not ask these questions, it should have no right to conduct one more committee hearing at taxpayers’ expense.