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Unorthodox

FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - August 9, 2016 - 12:00am

He just does things differently.

Way past midnight last weekend, in a military camp no one heard of, during the wake for soldiers killed fighting insurgents, President Rodrigo Duterte delivered a bombshell of a speech. He named 160 mayors, judges and police officers he accuses of involvement in the illegal drugs trade.

The speech reverberated across the globe, carried by the major international news networks. Because the speech was delivered in the wee hours, print media missed out on the explosive expose. But it was carried all day by the broadcast media.

Very early Sunday morning some of the local officials named as drug coddlers made the rounds of television and radio stations trying to clear their names. In the interactive media environment we now have, it was possible for their own constituents to contest the denials.

When one town mayor, for instance, denied coddling drug traders, his own constituents texted in their testimonies. By Monday morning, those testimonies converted into live radio interviews filling in the details.

That followed the pattern of what happened days before. When the mayor of Albuera, Leyte was named a drug coddler last week, the official rushed to the PNP headquarters to deny the information. A police team in his hometown, however, was alerted about armed men at the mayor’s Albuera residence. In the ensuing shootout, six of the mayor’s heavily armed bodyguards were killed.

Although he owned several mansions, the mayor had no source of income to justify his property holdings. While the mayor came in wearing a golf shirt, reporters noticed he wore expensive Italian shoes. His wife and daughter lugged even more expensive designer bags. The slip showed.

Anticipating the criticism of his methods by the self-appointed guardians of “due process,” Duterte prefaced the presentation of his explosive list with a long discussion about the need to unmask the protectors of the drug syndicates. He took responsibility for any errors in what he was about to report. But it was his duty to make the public aware of the information he had.

For days, the President spoke of dismantling the “apparatus” that made drugs a scourge for the nation. The biggest drug lords resided abroad, beyond the reach of our law, including the largest Mexico-based drug cartel. But without a functioning distribution apparatus, it will not be easy for them to operate in our domestic market.

If we relied on the orthodox process of building a case before naming the offenders, it would take a century for our anti-drug people to even dent the scourge. By that time, we would have been overrun by narcopolitics.

The magnitude of the drug menace requires more creative measures. The one Duterte chose was to name and shame the drug coddlers.

One might also call the tactic Shock and Awe.

Duterte’s reputation precedes him. Weeks before he formally assumed the presidency, it was reported that the drug syndicates had put out a fire sale, dropping their prices to dispose of stocks before they needed to flee the country. The police likewise mounted an anti-drug effort like nothing we have seen before.

In his first month in office, hundreds of thousands of drug users turned up to surrender. The turnout was so surprising, local governments did not know what to do with the horde.

Then there was the body count. The casualties were officially reported as encounters with resisting criminals. Few of us take that with full seriousness, but the outcry is limited.

In the case of Sunday morning’s list of drug coddlers, the effect was devastating. Those named in the list hurriedly turned up to report to the authorities.

The biggest catch was not on the list. The biggest drug lord in the Visayas decided he could not stand the heat. He turned up at Camp Crame yesterday to surrender.

If this anti-drug effort were not as serious as it has been (body count included), the response from the community of drug lords would not have been what it is.

Police records show that drug-related crimes dropped dramatically since the former mayor of Davao City became president. The turnout in casinos likewise reflects the trend, confirming the suspicion that money-launderers (especially from the drugs trade) constitute an important segment of patrons.

Duterte promised, during the presidential campaign, he would substantially diminish the drug menace within six months after assuming office.  Many took that as hyperbole. Now we are actually looking at that self-imposed deadline as eminently achievable.

Few imagined the anti-drug campaign would be as relentless as it has been so far. Few anticipated the likes of Ronald “Bato” de la Rosa, Duterte’s handpicked police chief, who is as passionate in winning the war against the drug syndicates as his boss.

For that matter, few imagined the magnitude of the drug menace to be as we now see.

We have seen the data before: 92 percent of our barangays are drug-infested. Maybe three million Filipinos are drug-dependents. The total volume of the drug trade is inestimable.

But the previous administration never spoke of the threat this posed. It was never once mentioned in any of Noynoy Aquino’s SONAs. It was never really frontally addressed by Mar Roxas in his years as DILG chief.

Now we are shocked more at the scale of this menace than the sight of dead criminals.

Sure, there is an orthodox way of getting the job done. But that has proven ineffectual in the past.

Duterte’s unorthodox approach, by contrast, yields impressive results.

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