DILG's Abalos says 'drug war' to continue but should 'target main source'

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
DILG's Abalos says 'drug war' to continue but should 'target main source'
File photo shows police investigating the death of a victim of the Duterte government's so-called war on drugs.
AFP / Noel Celis, file

MANILA, Philippines — Taking its cue from President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the Department of the Interior and Local Government will continue the Duterte administration's "war on drugs" but with a new approach, its newly-minted secretary Benhur Abalos said Monday morning. 

At a press conference, Abalos said that most investigations of drug killings are deterred because there are no witnesses to assist in the cases, adding that in every anti-drug operation, there should be at least three witnesses including representatives from the media, the Department of Justice, and a barangay official.

“It is important right now to continue the things that you [DILG] have done...I was asked, ‘How about the war on drugs?’ It will be sustained in accordance to the oath I made as provided for in the constitution,” Abalos said in mixed Filipino and English.

“We'll continue [what the last DILG did] but we will put greater focus in building up strong cases against illegal drug suspects to ensure that no cases will be dismissed and they will be spending the rest of their lives behind bars,” he said.

Speaking before the DILG workforce at Monday's press briefing, Abalos cited what he said were best practices from his time as Mandaluyong City mayor that can be applied improve the department’s role in the government's anti-illegal drugs campaign.

“We will involve other concerned government agencies, and most importantly, the communities, to make sure that we have a comprehensive campaign against illegal drugs,” he said.

READ: Abuse in 'drug war' routinely covered up, advocates say

While he was careful to laud Police Lt. Gen. Vicente Danao, Jr., Philippine National Police officer-in-charge for effective mechanisms against illegal drugs, Abalos also asserted that in all of society’s problems, “one must go to the roots and target the main source.”

“Aside from the law enforcement aspect, we should get to the root causes of the anti-illegal drugs problem and address all of these things in collaboration with other agencies of the government and stakeholders — unemployment, education, family, and a host of other issues,” Abalos said.

Duterte's 'war on drugs'

Under President Rodrigo Duterte's flagship campaign against illegal narcotics, official police figures acknowledge at least 6,117 deaths in anti-drug operations since July 2016.

Police leadership earlier claimed the number was as high as 8,000 but eventually dialed this back by thousands without explanation. However, rights groups both here and abroad say the real number may be as high as 30,000. 

Despite an uptick in killings and operations during the coronavirus pandemic, government data compiled by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime found that crystal methamphetamines or shabu were still found to be behind the most arrest and treatment admissions in the country in 2020. 

Duterte won the presidency in 2016 on, among other things, promises of dealing with illegal drugs within six months. He failed to meet this self-imposed deadline and eventually asked the public for a six-month extension that he also failed to meet. 

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