Palace: No sacred cows in drugs war


By TJ Burgonio, Gil C. Cabacungan Jr.
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 02:08:00 01/15/2009

Filed Under: Crime and Law and Justice, Illegal drugs, PDEA-DOJ bribery issue

MANILA, Philippines—President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the country’s new drug czar, has ordered antinarcotics authorities to crack down on big drug traffickers, including her supporters, Malacañang officials said Wednesday.

“There will be no sacred cows,” Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said when asked if Ms Arroyo would run after even her political allies suspected of trafficking.

Ermita said the drive would go all the way. “Anyone who will be involved, whoever they may be, they will have to account before the law.”

Ms Arroyo on Tuesday declared that she would oversee the anti-drug campaign and serve as anti-drug czar until the bribery scandal besetting the Department of Justice (DOJ) is resolved.

DOJ prosecutors have been accused of dismissing charges against three drug suspects, known as the Alabang Boys, after they allegedly received P50 million. The prosecutors, who have denied the allegation, are on leave and are under investigation.

Ermita said notorious drug rings on the order of battle of the Dangerous Drugs Board and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) would be targeted in the all-out war against trafficking.

Get big-name traffickers

Ms Arroyo expected the “big-name traffickers” to be immediately identified in the fresh campaign, and “brought before the bar of justice,” he said.

Cebu Rep. Antonio Cuenco noted that only six of the 32 big drug syndicates identified by the PDEA had been dismantled as of last year.

Cuenco urged the President to bring down during her stint as the anti-drug czar the 26 big syndicates on the PDEA list.

“They have been identified but how come they have not been busted up to now?” asked Cuenco, vice chair of the House committee on dangerous drugs.

He also urged Ms Arroyo to beef up its prosecution of drug cases in view of its poor batting average in convicting drug traffickers and pushers over the past 10 years.

On Tuesday, Ms Arroyo also ordered the implementation of a raft of measures, including random drug tests on high school and college students, to curb drug abuse and trafficking across the country.

“Definitely that (major victories) is the target of our drug enforcement agencies, and with the President at the helm of the drive, you can be sure that we better have some victories,” Ermita told reporters.

“Otherwise this problem will linger on, and it’s to the detriment of society,” he said.

Semblance of permanence

An anticrime watchdog said Ms Arroyo must give her new role a “semblance of permanence” to efficiently get to the bottom of the illegal drug problem in the country.

“The case of the Alabang Boys must not be the basis of the President’s timetable in assuming the post. It is just the tip of the iceberg so she must hold on to her new role for a longer period of time,” said Dante Jimenez, chair of the Volunteers against Crime and Corruption (VACC).

The VACC is set to pitch this idea to Malacañang in a position paper on Thursday. The decision to submit a recommendation to Ms Arroyo was arrived at a board meeting Wednesday.

The group expects its position to be opposed by various groups and personalities as the elections are just around the corner. “As we all know, illegal drugs are among the best sources of election money,” Jimenez said.

He noted that 80 percent of the heinous crimes in the country were drug-related.

Unimpressed

Others are not impressed by the President naming herself anti-drug czar.

“It’s bad if she will be unable to curb the problem of illegal drugs in the country. She might even be tagged as a recipient of bribes,” Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. said.

Pimentel said Ms Arroyo should instead give the job to PDEA Director General Dionisio Santiago.

“Santiago has a good reputation and only needs a no-nonsense backing by the President. I think he will be able to do a good job,” he said.

No wonder woman

By naming herself as anti-drug czar, the President has turned into “micro-managing,” said opposition Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero.

“That is not good for somebody who is supposed to run the government. She’s no wonder woman who could do everything,” the senator said in Tacloban City on his way to various towns in the provinces of Samar and Leyte.

Escudero said similar moves in the past did not lead to results. “There is no such thing as a drug czar in our administrative code. That is only a title and not a position,” he said.

He said that every time the country faced a big problem, the President would name a czar. Ms Arroyo earlier named Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap as rice czar at the height of the rice crisis and Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes as energy czar when the country was suffering from high fuel prices.

Escudero also warned of more delays in the investigation of the Alabang Boys’ case. “Most agencies in government won’t move without her imprimatur,” he said.

Only 24 convictions

In the House of Representatives, Ilocos Norte Rep. Roquito Ablan, chair of the committee on dangerous drugs, pointed out that the government had only made 24 convictions out of the thousands of drug cases filed as far back as 1998.

In his report to the President, Dangerous Drugs Board Chair Vicente “Tito” Sotto III blamed the anti-drug war’s abysmal performance on the “nonappearance of prosecution witnesses, insufficiency of evidence, irregularity or illegality of arrest, search and seizure, and inconsistencies in testimony.”

Jefferson Soriano Ablan, commander of the Anti-Illegal Drugs Special Operations Task Force, wrote the House committee about the “seeming unabated dismissal of illegal drug cases especially those of high-valued targets and high profile personalities even at the prosecution level.”

Legislative reforms

Representative Ablan said the committee would come up with legislative reforms aimed at strengthening the tools of the drug war and at reconciling the prosecution and enforcement side of the campaign.

The committee members suggested bigger budget allocations for the PDEA and police agents, setting up of an independent prosecution arm for drug cases, and using latest technology such as surveillance cameras to beef up cases against drug pushers and traffickers caught in the drug busts.

The committee would also consider the President’s proposal to conduct random drug tests in schools.

Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga suggested that Congress members undergo the same tests to set an example among public officials.

“How can we have an effective investigation of drug cases and legislate laws meant to address the drug menace if the public will perceive some of us as drug users?” asked Barzaga.

Ablan and Cuenco shot down the proposal. With reports from Christine O. Avendaño and Jocelyn R. Uy in Manila, and Joey Gabieta, Inquirer Visayas

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