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Leadership and the rule of law

Last Friday, I was invited by the Philippine Bar Association – the oldest voluntary organization of lawyers in the country – to be their keynote speaker on the occasion of their Law Day celebration, which also coincided with the induction of their new set of officers led by Atty. Benjamin Bacorro as president.   

 It was actually my first major speaking engagement following my confirmation as Ambassador to the United States. The theme for the occasion – “Leadership and the Rule of Law” – was quite timely because of the issues that our country is facing regarding human rights violations and extra judicial killings.

As everyone knows, we have not had an Ambassador to the US for more than a year, which is why one of our priorities when we get to Washington, DC would be to engage with key members of the US Congress to provide them a clearer perspective on issues surrounding our country, and the government’s war against illegal drugs which, whether people agree or not, has become widespread.  According to a report by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, 50 percent or 20,872 barangays out of the total 42,036 have been infiltrated in varying degrees of severity by illegal drugs. Recently, the president disclosed that there are 9,000 policemen involved in the drug trade. That alone is very alarming.

As I told the members of the audience, organizations like the Philippine Bar Association (PBA) can play a crucial role in showing to the rest of the world that we are a sovereign nation where the rule of law is observed, that we should not need other governments or institutions to tell us about upholding the law. After all, we do have a democratic system that continues to work – one that is actually patterned after the American model. Aside from issuing position papers, perhaps law organizations can also think of ways to coordinate with concerned government agencies and law enforcement authorities to ensure that due process and the tenets of the law are observed in the conduct of police operations.

Being a lawyer and having been a prosecutor himself, I firmly believe that our president knows the law. And while the campaign against illegal drugs has been relentless, the president has also reiterated on numerous occasions that legitimate police operations should not be an occasion to commit murder. Policemen who are doing their duty will have the protection of the law, but those who commit abuses or crimes will be made accountable.

During a recent meeting with US Ambassador Sung Kim, President Rody made it clear that legitimate anti-drug operations by the Philippine National Police are conducted in line with the rule of law. The president has expressed appreciation for US assistance in combating the illegal drugs business.  

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While some are skeptical about revelations that criminal organizations like the 14K and United Bamboo are running major drug operations in the country, information we received from foreign intelligence agents working with local authorities confirmed that drug cartels from Asia and Latin America have long been eyeing the Philippines as a center for the illegal drugs trade, noting that the country offers an “east meets west” kind of market, aside from the fact that the country offers a good transshipment point for narcotics, with shabu being the most widely trafficked.

A few years ago, there was even talk of “joint ventures” between Chinese drug traffickers and the notorious Sinaloa drug cartel of Mexico to use the Philippines as a base to expand their market because of our ideal geographic location. The 2017 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report or INCSR by the US State Department also noted that, “international organized crime groups have established operational elements throughout the urban areas of the Philippines.”

As I told the distinguished members of the Philippine Bar Association, drugs can ruin the very fabric of society – it can destroy families and ultimately, the lives of our children. That is why despite criticisms from foreign governments and international bodies, the president has been unrelenting in the crackdown on illegal drugs, especially now that the connection between narcotics trafficking and terrorism has been established.

The global market for drug trafficking is now worth $652 billion – and this kind of money is used to fund terrorist activities. Last February, the US DEA arrested suspected Hezbollah members working with major drug cartels in South America, which led to the discovery of a major drug trafficking operation that serves as a funding source for Hezbollah’s terror activities such as recruitment, production of propaganda materials and purchase of high-powered weapons.  

What is happening in Marawi and the attack by the ISIS-affiliated Maute terrorist group is an indication of the connection between drugs and terrorism, with 11 kilograms of high-grade shabu worth P250 million seized during the early part of the AFP’s clearing operations. The fact is, even the United Nations Security Council has recognized the dangerous link between drugs and terrorism, describing it as “a threat to global peace, security and development.” 

While we will always welcome the help of the international community in dealing with terrorism and transnational crimes such as organized drug trafficking – for the president, the bottom line is this: Every country has its own system of dealing with legal issues, and other nations should at least respect that. 

The fact is, the government is already following suggestions from other nations on how to address issues like human rights abuses and extrajudicial killings. The president has in fact invited human rights advocates to join police operations. I have no doubt policemen involved in the drug trade are the persons of interest in extra judicial killings.

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Email: babeseyeview@gmail.com

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