POLICE killings of defenseless suspects are over. Really.
After the Kian, Carl and Kulot capers, cops shooting unarmed drug offenders will find lawmakers, media, rights advocates, irate netizens, the Catholic Church, plus the National Bureau of Investigation, the Public Attorneys Office, the Philippine National Police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, and the PNP Internal Affairs Service all over them.
President Rodrigo Duterte has changed his tune, from promising to fatten Manila Bay fish with 100,000 narco-criminals, to threatening to shoot those who kill defenseless suspects like Kian de los Santos, Carl Arnaiz, and Reynaldo “Kulot” de Guzman.
That’s not to say absolutely no more hoods in or out of uniform would deep-six suspects on their knees. There will be occasional shootings or stabbings by those who didn’t get the memo and catch the soundbite from the President warning those unloading guns on the gunless.
But besides those tail-end terminators, police will now keep pistols in holsters for fear of landing in headlines or hearings. For at the next shedding of teenage blood, Congress, Church, civil society, and CNN would be after the shedders.
That doesn’t mean Duterte’s drug war problems are over. Far from it.
As the narco-body count plummets, so too will the rubout fears which stampeded 1.3 million pushers and users to surrender under Duterte. With guns silent, addicts will be at it again.
Hence, narco-fighters must devise new ways to win.
They should have done that from the start. Colombia’s narco-carnage did not eradicate cocaine, and neither will the Philippine variety wipe out shabu, for the simple reason that one cannot put bullets into all the one, two or three million with white powder sachets in their pockets.
We’re far from beating drugs
So, how does President Duterte pull his next hat trick of stopping narcotics without filling morgues?
Well, in the first place, he didn’t really stop it. The enforcer-in-chief himself admits narcotics won’t be gone even after he leaves office in 2022.
Sure, over a million users and pushers reportedly surrendered, but 2 to 3 million are still out there, going by the President’s addict count. And many surrenderees resumed the trade and the habit.
In July, Gen. Isidro Lapeña, then-director of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), reported that PDEA, PNP, and other enforcement agencies seized ₱82.5 billion worth of illicit drugs under President Duterte.
That’s two-thirds of the estimated ₱120 billion in annual nationwide narcotics trade, which should have drastically shrunk the illicit business.
Yet just one-tenth of drug-infested barangays are cleared. So, either PDEA’s ₱120-billion estimate of narco-commerce is woefully understated, or the ₱80-billion-plus tally of seized drugs is bloated by recycling of confiscated narcotics.
Either way, Duterte’s crackdown, while dwarfing the past regime with its figures — 86,984 arrests, 152 drug dens closed, nine methamphetamine labs dismantled, 64,397 police operations conducted, on top of 1.3 million surrenders recorded — are far from beating drugs.
Winning without killing
Now, the gory days are over, with drug deaths deterred by public and Palace revulsion. To keep pushing back narcotics, President Duterte must succeed with non-violent strategies: arresting drug lords and their government protectors, interdicting contraband, mounting grassroots prevention and rehabilitation, and stopping prison trafficking.
The last task is the paramount must-do. If the state cannot restrain convicted criminals from bringing banned substances and running their narco-enterprises in prisons under 24/7 guard, then the government won’t stop drugs anywhere else, where its clout is far less.
On jail junkies, the Duterte government fared little better than the previous Aquino regime. Despite a new Bureau of Corrections chief, and elite police and Marines augmenting BuCor guards, the New Bilibid Prison narco-trade, for which former justice secretary Sen. Leila de Lima was jailed sans bail, returned to NBP. Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre 2nd himself had to take over BuCor while looking for a competent corrections boss.
Also dismaying was the campaign against smuggled drugs. Duterte named ex-mutineer Col. Nicanor Faeldon as Bureau of Customs (BoC) commissioner to reverse the trebling of contraband during the Aquino years, from $7.9 billion in 2009 to $26.6 billion by 2014, based on International Monetary Fund data.
But the entry of 604 kg of shabu in May, facilitated by the BoC Command Center under Faeldon himself, points to mission failure in blocking narcotics. Even more appalling is the incompetent or intentional mishandling of the shabu’s seizure in Valenzuela, for which no one was charged until Congress investigated.
While insisting Faeldon was honest, to widespread disbelief, President Duterte wisely let him go and moved narco-nemesis Lapeña from PDEA to BoC. That should reduce drug smuggling; so would greater cooperation with China, the source of most meth, whose tip prompted the Valenzuela raid.
The PNP shift from junkies to masterminds and narco-politicos saw the bloody takedown of Ozamiz’s Parojinog clan-gang, DOJ’s probe of alleged narco-trader Peter Lim, and the killing of Iloilo’s notorious Richard Prevendido
More names in Duterte’s thick book of drug lords and officials will fall, with Congress set to defer barangay elections and let Duterte appoint officers-in-charge to sweep aside thousands of suspected narco-chieftains.
Prevention and rehab are expanding, too, with more mega-centers for reforming addicts being built by private donors. New PDEA chief retired police Supt. Aaron Aquino said on his takeover Tuesday that he wants to shift his agency’s focus from anti-narcotics raids to rehabilitation of drug dependents.
Random drug tests, followed by counseling and rehab, are being done door-to-door in mostly poor areas, and for public school staff and students. Major sectors, including the Catholic Church, are mounting prevention and rehab initiatives, though far more is needed.
Longer-term, the criminal justice system badly needs reform, so narco-trafficking is probed, prosecuted and punished expeditiously. Then law enforcers don’t fear that criminals taken alive would just go scot-free. More on this in future columns.
Can Duterte defeat drugs without dead druggies by the dozen?
Only if we all help him stop smuggling, oust narco-officials, and mobilize family and community for prevention and rehab. Then the thousands terminated in Tokhang will not have died in vain.