'Change strategy': Robredo wants 'Tokhang' scrapped, gov't to go after drug lords

Patricia Lourdes Viray - Philstar.com
'Change strategy': Robredo wants 'Tokhang' scrapped, gov't to go after drug lords
In this Dec. 16, 2019 photo, Vice President Leni Robredo announces that she will postpone the release of her report on the government's anti-drug campaign, to focus on relief efforts following the magnitude 6.9 earthquake that jolted Davao del Sur and other nearby provinces.

MANILA, Philippines — Vice President Leni Robredo has called for a change in strategy in the government's campaign against the illegal drug trade in the country, such as putting an end to "Oplan Tokhang."

"Tokhang" originally referred to the police "knock and plead" campaign where officers visited suspected "drug personalities" in their homes to convince them to surrender. It has since been used to refer to killings associated with the "war on drugs," even those not included in the around 5,500 deaths in law enforcement operations that the government has acknowledged. 

The vice president on Monday released her report on the so-called drug war following her 18-day stint as co-chair of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs late last year.

"Mula sa datos na ito makikita natin na kinakailangan ang pagpalit ng istratehiya kasama na rito ang pagtigil sa (Oplan) Tokhang at paglabas ng bagong kasulatang may mas malinaw na layunin at operational guidelines para maiwasan ang mga naging abuso ng iilan sa kampanyang ito," Robredo said in a televised press conference Monday.

(From the data we can see the need for a change in strategy, including stopping Oplan Tokhang and releasing a new policy that has clearer objectives and operational guidelines to avoid the abuses of some of those involved in this campaign.)

'Only 1% of drugs seized'

Citing data from government agencies, the former ICAD co-chair  said that only 1% of the total shabu that the Philippine National Police said is circulating in the country had been recovered between 2017 and 2018.

According to Robredo, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) said during the ICAD enforcement cluster meeting that it does not have data on the amount of illegal drugs circulating in the country.

The Philippine National Police (PNP), meanwhile, said drug users across the country consume three tons or 3,000 kilograms of shabu per week. This means that Filipino drug users consume at least 156,000 kg of shabu every year.

PDEA report from January to October 2019 showed that only 1,344 kg of shabu have been recovered, which amounts to about 1% of the country's consumption.

In 2017, only 1,053 kg of shabu was seized while only 785 kg were confiscated in 2018, amounting to less than 1% of the supposed supply.

"Hanggang isang porsyento lang ng kabuuang supply ng shabu ang nakuha ng PDEA noong nakaraang tatlong taon. Bilyon-bilyong piso ang katumbas ng ganito karaming droga," Robredo said.

(PDEA only recovered up to 1% of the total shabu supply in the past three years. That amount of drugs is worth billions of pesos.)

Police data, meanwhile, showed that 3,000 kg of shabu is worth P25 billion, meaning at least P1.3 trillion of illegal drugs circulate in the country per year.

"Imbes na habulin o patayin ang nagbebenta sa kanto kailangan tugisin ang pinanggagalingan ng droga — ang malalaking drug lords. Sila ang tunay na kalaban hindi ang ordinaryong mamamayan," she said.

(Instead of chasing or killing small-time drug dealers, the government should go after the source of drugs — the big drug lords. They are the real enemies, not the ordinary citizens.)

Robredo said the Anti-Money Laundering Council was only able to recover a total of P1.4 billion related to the illegal drug trade from 2017 to 2018.

"Malinaw na malinaw na ayon mismo sa opisyal na datos sa kabila ng lahat ng Pilipinong pinatay at lahat ng perang ginasta hindi lumampas sa isang porsyento ang naipit natin sa supply ng shabu at sa perang kinita mula sa droga," she said.

(It is very clear that based on official data, despite all the Filipinos killed and money spent, the recovered shabu supply and money from drugs did not even amount to more than 1%.)

In a separate press briefing on Monday morning, Police Lt. Gen. Archie Francisco Gamboa said the police would be going after more high- to mid-level drug suspects this year through service of warrants and through buy-bust operations.

He also said that issues of transparency in operations would be addressed through, among other things, issuing bodycams to police officers. He said the bodycams would be used in anti-drug operations as well as at checkpoints.

Dangerous Drugs Board should chair ICAD

The vice president also recommended transfering the chairmanship of the ICAD to the Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB).

According to Robredo, the DDB has more ability to draft the entire anti-drugs program that would help every agency under the ICAD.

"Maikli man ang ating panahon sa ICAD natin na ang tunay na kailangan nito at mas malawak na perspektibo at mas strategic na pamumuno," Robredo said.

She said that the anti-drug campaign had focused on going after drug suspects at the expense of other aspects of the campaign like the rehabilitation and reintegration of drug dependents.

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