THE proliferation of illegal drugs seemed like an insurmountable problem for the country last year with the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) reporting that 92 percent of barangays in Metro Manila alone was plagued by the menace.
During the last elections, a reluctant candidate, then Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, defeated rivals with national positions and powerful machineries, capturing the attention of the electorate with his uncompromising stance against illegal drugs and criminality, which he vowed to suppress in three to six months.
After almost three months as president, Duterte is claiming early victory in the campaign against illegal drugs.
As of September 20, the Philippine National Police (PNP) has reported that 18,064 drug personalities have been arrested while 1,167 suspected drug offenders have been killed in the government’s drive against illegal drugs since President Duterte assumed office on June 30.
Another 1,651 were allegedly killed by suspected vigilante groups, which the PNP classified as “deaths under investigation.”
Out of 1,651 “deaths under investigation” from July 1 to September 18, the PNP has reported 1,960 incidents involving 2,128 victims.
Of these drug-related incidents, the PNP arrested 196 suspects with 309 cases filed in courts against those involved in summary executions.
Under Project “Tokhang” (Katok-Pakiusap), wherein police visit the residences of suspected drug personalities, a total of 715,699 have voluntarily surrendered. Of the number, 662,594 are confessed drug users while 53,105 profess to be drug pushers.
“Now with that number, we can say that the first phase of the government’s war against drug was very successful,” Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar told The Manila Times.
Name and shame
Also part of the efforts of the Duterte administration so far are his controversial naming of personalities suspected to be involved in the illegal drugs trade.
Last month, the President read out the names of over 150 local government officials, judges, and police personnel whom he claimed to be involved in the illegal drugs trade while promising to identify more suspects.
Before reading out his list, the president accused five police generals of serving as protectors of drug syndicates. He also released a supposed “matrix” of the illegal drugs trade in the New Bilibid Prison.
So far, the highest officials on his lists are Sen. Leila de Lima and Rep. Amado Espino Jr. of Pangasinan. Both have denied Duterte’s allegations.
Reduced crime rate
Aside from making strides in the illegal drug campaign, Andanar also trumpeted a significant decline in the country’s crime rate.
Citing a PNP report, the Palace official said recorded crime incidence throughout the country was pegged at 50,817 in July, or 5,522 less than the 56,399 incidents reported during the same period in 2015.
Index crimes—or crimes against persons and property—plummeted to 11,800 in July, or a 31 percent decrease from 17,105 cases reported in the same month last year.
During the same period, crimes against property, such as theft and robbery, went down by 40 percent, from 11,106 incidents to 4,476.
This is proof that “change has come,” Andanar told The Times.
“There is a downward trend in murder, homicide, robbery, theft, carnapping, motornapping and physical injuries. The crime rate has been reduced by 49 percent in July this year compared to the same period last year. There is a direct correlation between drug use and crime. To sustain their habit, drug users often resort to crimes such as robbery and theft so they can buy more drugs on a regular basis. So once drug users and pushers surrender to authorities or are arrested in police operations, there will be a corresponding decrease in crime incidence,” he added.
Along with the downward trend on criminality claimed by the Palace, the administration’s anti-drug war has also led to a surge in consumer confidence at the start of the President’s term.
“Optimists are now outnumbering the pessimists in the country. Public expectation of better times ahead is buoyed by the expected gains in peace and order. Peace and order is a prerequisite for investors to come in and for business to flourish. You cannot sustain economic growth when criminals roam scot-free and threaten or intimidate the citizenry and commit various crimes,” Andanar said.
He added that the drug problem in the country is an internal problem. However, he stressed that the illegal drugs trade is a global concern.
“We therefore expect other countries to support us in this fight. We have raised our concern with China as the source of illegal drugs, and they have pledged to help us stem the flow of drugs into the country. We will need the help of the international community in addressing the drug menace which is also a health problem requiring the establishment of more rehabilitation facilities,” he said.
The president has repeatedly emphasized that the administration’s campaign against the illegal drugs trade has the sanction of 16 million voters.
He recently asked for a six-month extension on the government’s war on drugs, saying that there are too many people involved in the narcotics trade and that he “cannot kill them all.”
Launching his crackdown was like letting “a worm out of the can,” Duterte said, adding that he wanted “a little extension of maybe another six months” to try and finish the job.
“Even if I wanted to I cannot kill them all because the last report would be this thick,” the President said, referring to a final list of 1,000 people including top officials suspected of being involved in the drugs trade.
During the campaign, the President’s rivals, among others, questioned his ambitious promise to end crime in his first six months in office. He lashed back at them, saying only those without political will would think that way.
The next phase of the Duterte administration’s war on drugs is running after the high-value targets or big-time drug lords.
“We may not be able to completely eliminate the drug menace even after one year, but we will make it extremely difficult for those who still persist in drug trafficking to operate with impunity. We expect the President’s campaign to further intensify with more people surrendering to authorities as we prepare plans for the rehabilitation of drug users,” Andanar said.
“Rehabilitation should be holistic in approach, covering the physical, mental and psychological aspects, so that upon finishing the rehab process, drug dependents can eventually become productive members of society. Construction of more rehabilitation centers is now underway with two being planned in Luzon; one in the Visayas, and one in Mindanao. We should encourage the private sector and perhaps even international NGOs to help the government to set up more rehab centers throughout the country,” he added.
Officials said there are about 3.7 million drug addicts in the country, reflecting a problem of “epidemic proportions.”
Duterte’s war on drugs, however, has earned criticisms from international bodies like the United Nations and European Union as well as countries like the United States
The Senate and the House of Representatives are now conducting probe into the spate of alleged extrajudicial killings of suspected drug personalities seen to be linked to Duterte’s anti-drugs campaign.
Duterte began his days as president with a record-high trust rating of 91 percent. Only time will tell how his popularity will fare throughout his presidency.