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Opinion

Drug allegations

The broader view - Harry Roque - The Philippine Star

Public confidence in the Marcos administration has plummeted in the first three months of 2024. The people are increasingly dissatisfied with the prevailing state of the nation, national direction and economic prospects.  The trust and approval ratings of President Bongbong Marcos Jr. also reached an all-time low since the third quarter of 2023 due to concerns over inflation, corruption and perceived weak leadership.

The latest Publicus Asia survey shows that support for the incumbent government stood at 35 percent, an 11-point drop from the last quarter. PBBM garnered trust and approval ratings of 33 percent and 44 percent, respectively. The Visayas and Mindanao registered the highest distrust for the Chief Executive (34 percent). The disfavor for the President also rose in Mindanao (from 13 percent to 30 percent). To be fair, there was also a decrease in the trust and approval ratings of the other top officials of the country.

The findings of Publicus repeat the survey results of Pulse Asia, which showed the growing public distrust and disapproval of PBBM. His national ratings took a double-digit drop between December 2023 and March 2024.

In my view, the President will continue to earn public disfavor, even ire, for the failure of the government to address the soaring prices of prime commodities and essentials. Inflation – the retail price of rice per kilo, specifically – is a problem that hits closest to the heart and gut of the average Filipino. His 2022 election promise to lower the price of rice to P20 a kilo remains that, much to the dismay and disillusionment of his supporters in the low-income groups. 

The Department of Agriculture reported that the retail price of rice rose by 36 percent on March 1, compared to the same period in 2023 (The STAR). Meanwhile, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) said the March 2024 rice inflation of 24.4 percent is the highest since the February 2009 record-high of 24.6 percent. The prospects get gloomier for the Filipinos. The PSA predicts the price of our staple food to rise until July (Sun Star).

Surveys upon surveys have pointed out that the public is most worried about inflation. The issues on the West Philippine Sea and Charter change do not even figure in their top five national concerns. They clamor for affordable goods and services. They demand higher salaries and wages. They need jobs or better jobs. They want the government to end corruption and reduce poverty in the country. After almost two years in office, the Marcos administration has yet to ease their burdens. With his decreasing popularity, the President can no longer afford to be blind and deaf to the socio-economic sufferings of the Filipinos.

Weak character

The growing public perception that PBBM is a weak leader is also unsurprising. In 2021, no less than former president Rodrigo Duterte alluded to his eventual successor as weak in character and a cocaine-user. In his most recent press conference in Davao City, FPRRD said he was the first person to call national attention to the drug addiction of the Chief Executive. As then-Davao City mayor and former president, Digong saw evidence submitted or shown to him by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) detailing PBBM’s history of substance abuse. He understood why PDEA is denying the existence of real and documentary evidence. No government agency in its right mind would go head-to-head with an incumbent President.

Digong’s remarks must also be related to the controversial “PDEA leaks” exposé of a social media personality and a former Marcos loyalist-turned arch-critic. Political vlogger Maharlika released a series of documents – a pre-operations report, a surveillance report and a letter signed by a former Investigation Agent (IA) of the Intelligence and Investigation Service (IIS) – purporting that then-senator Marcos was on the agency’s drug watchlist. PDEA has called the documents fake. It is now mulling filing criminal charges against the erstwhile Marcos supporter.

When I examined the letter, it appeared that the ex-IA confirmed that PBBM was under PDEA surveillance for alleged illicit drug use sometime in 2012. The signatory seemed to attest to the veracity of the pre-ops and surveillance documents. The agent claimed to have personally interviewed a Confidential Informant, who knows the President’s reported drug use, in front of other IIS personnel. It could only mean that the documents exist, contrary to PDEA’s denial that they cannot be found in the Plans and Operations Reports Management Information System. To prove the documents’ existence, the ex-IA must produce the original versions and execute a sworn statement that he was the signatory. Evidence must be related to the fact in issue to induce belief in its existence or non-existence (Revised Rules on Evidence).

The “PDEA Leaks” seem to corroborate the previous and most recent statements of FPRRD concerning the illegal drug habit of PBBM. I am not saying that the documents are conclusive. The Chief Executive must disprove the allegations. Otherwise, his continued silence is tantamount to admitting the contents of the documents.

Sound mind

The Constitution provides that the government must inform the public of the state of health of a seriously ill President. While we have no direct knowledge of PBBM’s current health condition, the drug allegations against him constitute a grave national issue. Perhaps, he may humbly consider undergoing a random drug test. In proving to all Filipinos that he has passed the test or tested clean of illicit drugs, the drug issue will be settled once and for all.

I believe the public is entitled to know whether the President is in the right and sound frame of mind when deciding on national and foreign policy issues. In particular, his decision to ally with the United States, Japan and Australia to militarily contain China’s “encroachment” in the West Philippine Sea is only worsening the conflict in the maritime zone.

Fox News reported that the unresolved Philippine-China dispute could precipitate a World War III. A US-based China expert has predicted that America will likely start a fight with China over the Philippines than Taiwan or Japan. If we become a theater of war, Filipino soldiers and civilians would go like lambs to the slaughterhouse. God forbid!

I urge PBBM to continue seeking diplomatic and peaceful solutions with China, and resist the interference of America and its Western allies. If possible, the government must maintain the verbal status quo agreement of non-military confrontation and non-expansion that the Duterte administration fostered with the Xi Jinping government. We need to avoid bloodshed and unnecessary loss of lives and properties over the WPS. 

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