Failure to vet info, informant may have led to PNP-PDEA shootout â Lacson
Inter-agency investigators gather evidence and inspect the lifeless body found inside a van following a bungled encounter between operatives of the PNP and PDEA at a fastfood chain along Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City on Wednesday night, Jan. 24, 2020.
The STAR/Miguel de Guzman

Failure to vet info, informant may have led to PNP-PDEA shootout — Lacson

Franco Luna (Philstar.com) - February 28, 2021 - 12:37am

MANILA, Philippines — Members of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agencies and the Philippine National Police who failed to vet information before launching operations that led to a shootout earlier this week should be held accountable for any lapses, a senator who used to head the PNP said. 

Personnel of both agencies figured in a gunfight outside the Ever Gotesco Mall along Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City on Wednesday night, resulting in four deaths. Both agencies have asserted that they were taking part in official and coordinated operations. 

Speaking in an interview aired over DZBB Super Radyo, Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who chairs the Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs, said that the information both groups received from so-called informants should have been properly verified if the operations were indeed coordinated. 

"If it's clear that there was a major mistake on someone's end when it comes to vetting the informant, then someone should really answer for it. After all, lives were lost," he said in Filipino.

"We have to find out who fired first and who provoked," he added. 

'PDEA should be sole anti-narcotics agency'

The former PNP chief also said that the functions related to the administration's campaign against illegal narcotics should be wholly under the PDEA rather than shared with the national police. 

He added that the PDEA had already become a "police force" on its own because of how many operatives it had. 

"In other countries, it was the [PDEA counterpart] that would be in charge of coordinating these operations...That's [overseer role] to provide technical assistance and human intelligence is what the ideal situation should be," he said in Filipino. 

"The NBI must conduct an in-depth investigation to change or amend the coordination policy in the fight against illegal drugs."

'Safe to conclude' that 'drug war' failed

Though the PDEA and PNP were set to conduct a joint investigation through the latter's Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, President Rodrigo Duterte has since ordered the NBI to conduct an independent probe instead, directing the two agencies to drop theirs. 

Lacson said that the incident, if indeed motivated or caused by drug syndicates, is proof that the Duterte administration's flagship "war on drugs" has not been successful. 

"We have to be honest with ourselves. The 'drug war; really failed. Almost nothing changed with the illegal drugs situation. It's still chronic. If it succeeded, then there should be a significant dent on the drug syndicates," he said in Filipino. 

"What else can we do with the one year remaining? We still have to deal with the pandemic and our other problems."

This runs counter to the consistent narrative of administration officials that the anti-narcotics campaign has made significant strides in peace and order. 

Rights groups both here and abroad say the death toll of the anti-drug campaign may be as high as 30,000 deaths since Duterte's "war" began in 2016. 

In November, then-PNP chief Camilo Cascolan — who has since been given a post as an undersecretary in the Office of the President — acknowledged that almost 8,000 "drug personalities" had been slain in official operations, where cops routinely claim that only suspects who fought back were killed.

However, the latest data from the administration's Real Numbers PH campaign dialed this back to just 6,039 "persons who died during anti-drug operations." 

'Police and operatives were played with' 

The senator also raised the possibility that both agencies could have been in contact with the same informant who maneuvered information and caused the clash. 

"This still affects the drug war at the end of the day...the syndicates are probably laughing at the authorities right now," he said, adding that the informant could have emphasized the danger in the area which made sure that the police forces deployed were heavily armed. 

"This misencounter could cause setback in the government's campaign against illegal drugs...If they got the information from the same entity and the information was untrue, then they were really played with," he also said. 

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