Why it is ‘complicated’

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

The nearly two tons of shabu interdicted at a police checkpoint in Bgy. Pinakrusan, Alitagtag, Batangas last Monday becomes a showcase of a bloodless drug war. As far as President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. (PBBM) is concerned, nobody needs to die in the continuing all-out war against illegal drugs. To underscore this, PBBM flew all the way to the site to personally congratulate and fete the officers and men a day after they caught the illegal contraband without unnecessary bloodshed.

It was obviously a not-so-subtle dig at his immediate predecessor, former president Rodrigo Duterte, whose bloody all-out war against illegal drugs continues to haunt him in his retirement house in Davao City. Ex-president Duterte, father of Vice President Sara Duterte, has been accused before the International Criminal Court (ICC) of committing crimes against humanity over the deaths tied to his drug war. More than 6,000 drug suspects had been allegedly killed during his watch at Malacañang Palace.

But at a news forum with foreign correspondents last Monday, PBBM reiterated his administration’s policy that the ICC has no jurisdiction to issue an arrest warrant against the ex-president for the alleged extrajudicial killings of drug suspects. “We don’t recognize the warrant that they (ICC) will send to us,” PBBM asserted and insisted the country’s judicial system is working.

Yet yesterday, it became another round of his on-going word war with ex-president Duterte. PBBM stood squarely behind his administration’s “successful approach” in addressing the illegal drugs problem. It was an apparent tirade against the deadly “Oplan Tokhang” anti-drug campaign carried out during the Duterte administration.

PBBM was visibly elated to show off the haul of shabu along with Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Benhur Abalos Jr., newly installed Philippine National Police (PNP) Director General Rommel Francisco Marbil and Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) chief Moro Virgilio Lazo. They were met by Batangas officials led by Gov. Hermilando Mandanas, who told the President the provincial government will hand out “financial reward of P100,000” to the police unit that foiled the transport of shabu.

As reported to him by Abalos, the President cited the latest shabu haul was so far the largest seized under his two-year-old administration. “But not one person died. Walang namatay. Walang nagputukan, walang nasaktan (Nobody died. No shots were fired, nobody was hurt),” the President told reporters.

“The only way to get that is to continue to prosecute the drug war and – well within the law, well within – so that the cases can be filed and the syndicates can be identified, the guilty parties can be arrested and eventually imprisoned. And that is the point of this – what we are doing, that’s the only way to approach it,” he stressed.

PBBM later presented to the media the head of the police checkpoint, Capt. Luis de Luna, who received on-the-spot promotion to the rank of Police Major. PBBM reminded reporters the now Police Major would be limited to talking about the incident because tactical investigations are still ongoing.

When De Luna turned stiff facing the impromptu press conference, PBBM wisecracked: “There is no training in the military and police how to face the press. Our training in the police and military is how to face the bullets.” As a young man, he underwent military training during the administration of his late namesake father, former president Ferdinand Sr.

Gaining confidence from the presidential push, De Luna obliged to answer briefly how they chanced upon the shabu-carrying van. “We have regular checkpoints as part of our intensified crime prevention here. We flag down vehicles, especially suspicious ones and subject them to inspection,” De Luna replied in mixed Tagalog and English.

De Luna was eventually coached by the PNP spokesperson who went to whisper and dictated to him the official statement of the PNP on this particular case. But that’s understandable. No less than the President himself declared beforehand that the anti-drug campaign of his administration does not end with the seizure of 1.8 tons of shabu.

Offhand, the President relayed the information given to him by the PNP that the seized shabu was “not cooked here but shipped here from somewhere.” And that the illegal shipment was intercepted because of “tips” from intelligence reports from Interpol and other countries reaching our government authorities.

In other words, these tons of shabu are continuously being smuggled unabated into our country. But how brazen indeed these smugglers in transporting in broad daylight their illegal contraband with seeming impunity that their shipment will not be interdicted by authorities.

“That’s their costs of doing business that include possible arrests, seizure. This is an international crime. We must keep it hard for them to bring them here,” PBBM pointed out. “What’s important is we stop the shipment of drugs here in the Philippines,” he added. He noted even the richest countries spending “trillions” of money to fight illegal drugs could not stop the nefarious drug trafficking across borders.

“We just keep operating and keep gathering intelligence. Tuloy-tuloy lang kami, aabutan namin kayo, maliit lang ang Pilipinas,” PBBM declared.

This latest incident brings to mind a case where a local government ambulance was used to transport 500 kilos of shabu contained in 32 sacks. It was cornered by combined police operatives and agents of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) at a road checkpoint in Real, Quezon in October 2001. Former Panukulan, Quezon mayor Ronnie Mitra, who led the ambulance convoy, was subsequently convicted by the court for violating the Dangerous Drugs Act of 1972. But the court acquitted the two Chinese nationals who were caught with the mayor in the convoy, citing insufficiency of evidence.

“Kahit sino man ang nakita natin may kasabwat dito sa drug trade, kahit sino man, kahit politiko man, powerful politician, pulis o kung sinuman ay talagang iniimbestigahan natin,” PBBM vows.

And his latest words were obliquely hitting at Mr. Duterte: “There is no silver bullet” to address the illegal drugs problem.

Now, we know why PBBM describes as “complicated” his relations with the Dutertes.

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