PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte fired Dangerous Drugs Board Chairman Dionisio Santiago for “blabbering” before media.
“He could have asked me for an audience, tell me all about it. I did not put him in his position to issue statements to the press. I assigned him there so he can talk to me when there is problem; to tell me if what I am doing is not enough and what should I do,” Duterte said at a news conference before leaving Vietnam to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting there.
“Instead, he went to the press, went on to blabber,” Duterte said.
President Duterte was referring to Santiago’s comment on the 10,000-bed capacity mega drug rehabilitation facility in Nueva Ecija which, the official said, was a “mistake” and an “impractical solution” to the drug menace.
He said the money used to build the facility should have been used to fund small-scale rehabilitation centers at the barangay (village) level where family support would be available for the drug dependents wishing to change their ways.
The President, however, refused to answer as to whether he has a replacement for Santiago.
Lawmakers had something to say about the removal of Santiago.
Senators Ralph Recto and Cynthia Villar supported Santiago’s view of “community-based” rehabilitation centers.
At the same time Recto and Villar, together with Senators Franklin Drilon and Gregorio Honasan 2nd, said it was the “prerogative” of the President to remove any of his Cabinet members or agency officials if they no longer enjoyed his trust and confidence.
Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto 3rd, on the other hand, said the drug rehabilitation center could still be put to “optimum use” amid reports that only 400 former drug users were being treated at the vast facility.
“I think they were not denying that it is quite huge and yet it was donated (to the government). So, they have no choice. They were saying that they will use it for other purpose,” Villar said in a media forum.
She added: “Kasi ang hirap naman talaga nung 10,000. Kasi ang ating rehab center, hindi naman dapat malayo. Sobrang laki talaga (It is really difficult to fill up the 10,000-bed capacity drug center. Our rehab center must not be quite far from the relatives of the patients. It is really huge).”
Recto, Drilon and Honasan agreed that the decision to fire Santiago was the President’s prerogative.
“That’s the call of the President and that’s the call of Dionisio to resign. I have no further comment on that. I don’t know the basis of his comment, but I think that if there are only 400 (housed in the facility), I think, it is not being used properly,” Recto said in a chance interview.
Drilon said Santiago held his position “on the basis of the confidence of the President on him and the President has expressed no confidence on him and that’s a prerogative of the President insofar as that particular issue of concerned.”
“What I’m saying is that his position requires the continued confidence of the President. And if the President has lost confidence for the reasons known only to the President, then that is the legal situation,” Drilon said in a chance interview.
Honasan said, “It is the presidential prerogative of the appointing authority.”
Sotto said, “Infrastructure development on land specially as a gift is always acknowledged, an Asian cultural trait!”
Sotto declined to comment on Santiago’s resignation but said, that in line with the issue regarding the mega drug rehab center, he still believed that the facility “could be put to optimum use.”
“Aside from being just a drug rehab facility, it can also be utilized as the country’s mega drug enforcement academy,” he said. The senator said the facility could be used as an extension of the present Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) Academy.
“With that size, we could produce a thousand agents per batch. Alongside PDEA, other agencies such as BoC (Bureau of Customs), (Bureau of) Immigration, PNP (Phil. National Police), and NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) can avail of the drug interdiction training program,” Sotto said.
It can be patterned after the ILEA (International Law Enforcement Academy) in Bangkok, Thailand, he added. “The President may also seek assistance of guest instructors from China’s police academy, US FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation), Australian police academy and others to make it a world class training facility.”
Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano in a statement said that the forced resignation showed Duterte’s authoritarian tendencies and that this was not how a true leader should govern a nation.
“Isa muli itong pagpapatunay na kapag taliwas kay Duterte ang iyong sinasabi o pinaniniwalaan, kahit na ito pa ay may basehan at merito, siguradong tatanggalin ka sa gobyerno. Ito ay pamamahala kung saan tingin niya siya lamang ang tama. Indeed, a one-man show,” Alejano said.
([The forced resignation] proves that whoever goes against whatever Duterte says or believes, even if it has a basis or merit, will be removed from office. Duterte is a leader who only sees his ways as the gospel truth. Indeed, a one-man show.)
“What the President is doing will cause demoralization to public servants. It does not encourage professionalism and shuts down initiative and confidence among those serving in the government,” Alejano added.
Meanwhile, Cibac Party-list Rep. Sherwin Tugna lauded Santiago’s resignation, saying in a text message to The Manila Times that it was the right thing to do.
“Gen. Santiago’s resignation is proper because he has a belief that is different from his direct superior, President Duterte.
Out of his delicadeza, he did the right thing by resigning,” Tugna said.
“On the other hand, the appointing authority has the prerogative who to appoint because appointees exists at the trust and confidence of the appointing authority, in this case President Duterte,” Tugna added.
Buhay Party-list Rep. Lito Atienza told The Manila Times in a text message that while he agreed with Santiago’s position, he should not disagree with the President.
“I understand and agree with his position on the Mega Rehabilitation Center, but he also violated [the]basic rule in his role as alter ego of the President in addressing the nation’s drug problem. It is said [that]if you cannot stand the heat in the kitchen, get out of it,” Atienza said.
Asked if he agreed with Alejano’s comment that the forced resignation was an authoritative move by the President, Atienza refused to comment.
’A great loss’
Caloocan Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, incoming Vice President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), expressed disappointment over Santiago’s resignation.
“I have attended meetings with the Dangerous Drug Board before and I have found his (Santiago) views and approaches to the country’s problems with dangerous drugs to be very sensible and well meaning and more humane. He’s a great loss,” Bishop David said on a text message.
Bishop David said that he supported Santiago’s assessment that the mega drug rehabilitation facility built by the funds donated by Chinese businessman in Nueva Ecija was a mistake.
“Santiago made a lot of sense in his ANC “Headstart” interview. I think he is correct in saying that “Building a large drug rehabilitation center that could accommodate up to 10,000 drug dependents in a military camp north of the capital was ‘impractical’ and a ‘mistake’,” David added.
Bishop David said that small community-based rehab could have been more effective in reducing dangerous drug demand.
“The most sensible part was when he pointed out that family care and community involvement are more feasible in the smaller community based rehabilitation,” Bishop David added.
Bishop David cited existing community based rehabilitation centers in Caloocan City where they were partners with local government and anti-drug abuse council.
“In Caloocan City, we are partnered with the LGU’s Anti-Drug Abuse Council. Six batches have graduated already since we started in October last year; the most recent ones was just last October, so more or less 150 graduates.” he added. WITH BERNADETTE TAMAYO, RALPH VILLANUEVA, ASHLEY JOSE