Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez of Davao del Norte has called on his fellow lawmakers at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) to support the Duterte administration’s anti drug war—a policy that has left at least 7,000 suspected drug personalities either dead or without charges or trial.
In his welcome remarks at the Asean’s Inter-parliamentary Assembly (AIPA) Fact Finding Committee to Combat the Drug Menace at the Conrad Hotel in Pasay, Alvarez noted that drug trafficking has remained a major security concern in the Asean, and that the region has become a major transhipment hub for illegal drugs in increasingly growing international market.
“We stand firmly with President Rodrigo Duterte in the war against illegal drugs. He has called on the leaders of Asean member states during the 30th Asean Summit to join him in this campaign. I take this opportunity to urge you to do the same,” Alvarez said.
“With political will and cooperation, we will dismantle the massive illegal drug trade apparatus,” Alvarez added.
Alvarez then cited that the effects of illegal drug use on public health were well documented, particularly by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime which reported that aside from the medical conditions arising from drug abuse, certain modes of administration also contributed to the spread of other diseases that affect not only the person using illegal substances but also those close to them.
“We also cannot ignore the impact of drug use on society. Financial difficulties and relationship problems are just some of the challenges a family may face. We simply cannot stand idly by as our region succumbs to the debilitating effects of illegal drugs,” Alvarez, a lawyer, said.
“As legislators, we support measures that could strengthen mechanisms to stop the production, trafficking, and abuse of illicit drugs in our countries. I also call upon our AIPA Member States to enhance cooperation in the field of law enforcement and the criminal justice system, to raise awareness and educate all sectors of society and engage our local communities, schools and the media to commit their support to the realization of a drug-free Asean,” Alvarez added.
Under Alvarez’s leadership, the House of Representatives has approved the death penalty bill for drug-related cases last March.
Rep. Robert Ace Barbers of Surigao del Norte, chairman of the House committee on dangerous drugs, said that the Philippines and the rest of Southeast Asia should not treat the drug problem with kid gloves.
Barbers, a member of the Philippine contingent for the Asean parliamentarian’s conference, issued his position even as the UN Human Rights Council review in May showed that 45 out of 47 member countries (two dissenters being the Philippines and China) called for an investigation on the human rights violations committed in relation to the Duterte administration’s anti-drug campaign.
“Of course, we are in a war, there will be collateral damages, but these were not done on purpose. Street drug pushers and users, who have millions worth of drugs in their possession, won’t let themselves be arrested by the police. They will fight it out,” Barbers told reporters.
“Do you deal with drug personalities by firing a warning shot? Ask them to turn themselves in peacefully? It can’t be that way. We can’t treat them with kid gloves. Otherwise, they can kill you,” Barbers added.
The over 7,000 suspected drug personalities killed as a result of the anti-drug war include children as young as four years old, but Barbers still stressed that killing was not the policy of the Duterte administration.
“I am not going to advice them [other countries]to kill if needed. We will advise them to be aggressive, bold, and brazen in dealing with this enemy. Otherwise, the enemy will kill you. The enemy here is not an ordinary enemy. They will kill you. They are more aggressive than any law enforcement agency in the country,” Barbers said.
“We cannot discount the fact that there are human rights violations, but these are perpetuated by some corrupt officials. The human rights violations are not a result of a direct order coming from the President. This is probably the result of some eager beaver police officers running after all these drug lords and drug pushers,” Barbers added.
As of May 2016, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) reported that at least P82 billion worth of illegal drugs were seized in the first year of the Duterte administration, of which P12.62 billion were “shabu” or methamphetamine hydrochloride.
Lastly, Barbers dismissed criticisms that the drug war was only targeting the poor and small-time drug users and traffickers.
“You can’t just measure the success of the anti-drug campaign by just apprehending high profile drug personalities. There will be no big time drug lords if their underlings do not exist,” Barbers said.
“It is about natural progression. You first go for the foot, the hip, the neck, before you go for the head because the task at hand is not easy,” Barbers added.