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A Game of Musical Chairs: Drug War Back to PDEA | CMFR

A Game of Musical Chairs: Drug War Back to PDEA

Photo by Vincent Go


FROM PNP to PDEA – once more. President Rodrigo Duterte passed the responsibility for all anti-illegal drug operations to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) with a memorandum order on October 10. The announcement came on October 11, hours after the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) filed a petition for the Supreme Court to stop Project Double Barrel for having caused numerous deaths.

On January 31, the conduct of drug operations was pulled out of Philippine National Police (PNP) and handed over to PDEA after ranking police officers of the now defunct Anti-Illegal Drugs Group (AIDG) were implicated in the kidnap-slay case of Korean businessman Jee Ick Joo (See, “Caught in a Tight Spot: ‘Tokhang for Ransom’ and Kidnap-slay Controversy”). But not for long. The PNP resumed operation early in March with a new name, Project Alpha Double Barrel Reloaded.

Under PDEA’s watch of one month, only 28 deaths were recorded compared to the monthly average of at least 200 deaths with PNP at the helm. As of September 16, 2017 the PNP recorded 3,850 deaths during police operations.

CMFR cheers the press reporting on this significant shift in strategy. Initial news reports noted how the memorandum gave power to PDEA and ordered the PNP, the NBI and other organizations not to interfere in all drug operations, asking the same agencies to hand over all their intelligence and information to PDEA.

“Less bloody” is how PDEA Director Aaron Aquino described future operations under the agency.Their strategy will focus on targeting high value targets on the narco-list and manning ports to check the flow of drugs through smuggling. Reports also noted that PDEA has only around 2,000 on staff and that the agency needs PNP in the conduct of some of their operations.

Notably, there were no drug-related killings during the first few days under PDEA’s command.

Online, TV: Providing Background and More

A Rappler story recalled the establishment of PDEA in 2002 as the implementing arm of the Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) (“Get to Know PDEA, the ‘Sole Agency’ Now In Charge of Duterte’s War on Drugs”). It brought to light the agency’s main responsibilities based on the law: The agency is responsible for “efficient and effective law enforcement of all the provisions on any dangerous drug and/or controlled precursor and essential chemical.” The mandate includes the investigation, arrest and filing appropriate cases against violators and the confiscation of illegal drugs and drug equipment.

Since the agency lacks staff, PDEA needs to work “double time.” The story also reviewed the qualifications to become a PDEA drug enforcement officer.

Operation Double Barrel required coordination with PDEA based on the Command Memorandum Circular No. 16- 2016 or the PNP anti-illegal drugs campaign plan. In fact, previous executive orders require all drug-related operations by the PNP, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the Bureau of Customs (BOC) to be reported to PDEA. Rappler story pointed out the lack of coordination and information sharing during the in the conduct of the BOC search operations in May that led to the seizure of P6.4 billion worth of shabu shipment. (See, “Customs Under Fire: Shabu from China on the ‘Green Lane’”)

In a report in GMA-7’s State of the Nation, anchor Jessica Soho and reporter Ian Cruz’s banter noted the difference of the operation of PDEA to the PNP. Soho said that the focus on high value targets of the PDEA may change the public perception of government targeting only small fish and lower social classes.

Soho also noted how PNP Director General Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa had said the results were not good when the PDEA took over drug operations and that the public was clamoring for its return to the PNP. Soho raised the possibility of this happening again. Cruz said that PDEA see this as a challenge, but there may be plans involving local government units and the community in their future operations.

Answering Other Questions

The media also explored other important issues related to the transfer of power to PDEA:

What will happen to the budget allocated for Tokhang?

Based on the reports from several news organizations, Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel asked for a review of the PHP954 million budget allocated for the Operation Double Barrel. Pimentel also said that the Senate is eyeing to realign the budget to PDEA and the housing sector. The housing sector budget for the year 2018 dropped by 70 percent.

What will happen to the PNP drug operations?

Dela Rosa ordered the dissolution of all the PNP Drug Enforcement Units (DEGs). Dela Rosa was quoted in the reports saying the PNP will focus on internal cleansing and on other crimes especially those committed by the “riding in tandem.”

The PNP will still take action on street level drug trades but operations will be coordinated with and reported to the PDEA.

Critics of the drug war including Senator Risa Hontiveros were also quoted in the reports saying it is high time for the PNP to focus on investigating the huge number of deaths classified as deaths under investigation (DUIs) or homicide cases under investigation. Since Duterte assumed office in July 2016, the PNP recorded 10,354 DUIs.

An Issue to Follow

Reports also picked up intriguing statements.

Duterte said in his speech during the relaunch of the Malacañang Press briefing room on October 12, “Umalis kayong lahat ibigay ninyo sa PDEA (Let’s give the mandate to PDEA) and let us see what happens. But me, I am not interested anymore…Maybe this will suffice for the stupid European Union lies (pertaining to the statement against drug war killings from an international delegation of parliamentarians that visited the country on October 8 and 9.) (See, “Barking Up the Wrong Tree: Misguided Tirade”)

Like the President, the PDEA Director also has some reservations. Aquino asserted that crimes and the supply of and demand for drugs may increase once they take over because they lack the staff to do all operations.

On the other hand, the PNP is firm that they are willing to reclaim the power anytime needed.

These statements suggest that the transfer of responsibility may not be all designed to succeed in terms of fighting drugs or stopping unnecessary killings.

Why should the president not care about what happens with the transfer of leadership, referring to it as though it was for the good of the critics? Why should the PDEA be given this responsibility without the means and the manpower?

The media should be keen in following closely the different narratives or scenarios that unfold, and be ready to break through the surface of statements, detect the underlying meanings and actions that may be kept from all to see.