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Opinion

Learning from Colombia

THAT DOES IT - Korina Sanchez - The Freeman

PNP Chief General Ronald Dela Rosa and several other police officials recently returned from Bogota, Colombia. They attended the Counterterrorism and Counternarcotics Exchange Conference organized by the US State Department.

The goal was to learn from Colombia's own war against illegal drugs, which has been ongoing for the last three decades. One would think that Colombia should practically be drug-free after the bloody crackdown that led to the elimination of the dreaded Medellin Drug Cartel headed by Pablo Escobar and other drug lords. However, based on recent data, Colombia is still the number one producer of coca leaves, the main component in the production of cocaine.

What went wrong?

According to a Colombian political analyst, the country has had its share of victories and failures in its own war against illegal drugs. It may have defeated the large drug cartels like that of Medellin and Cali cartels, but the production of coca proliferates with drug groups only becoming smaller.

It is much easier to shoot an elephant than a mosquito, to offer an analogy. Based on a 2016 report by UN Office of Drugs and Crime, the "the drug business in Colombia is booming."Not a good sign.

Still, there are some things that the Colombian government did that General Dela Rosa would like to implement. One is the formation of a Search Bloc, which was made up of special forces from both the police and the military. Remember that the drug cartels in Colombia were well armed, with many weapons more powerful than that of law enforcers. They had their own private armies. The Search Bloc was effective in going toe-to-toe with these armed groups, until the heads like Escobar were finally neutralized.

But isn't that what is already happening here, although what we are seeing on a daily basis are the elimination of the street-level pushers and users, neutralized by both police and supposed vigilantes?

I don't know if drug lords here have the amount of manpower and firepower similar to the Colombian drug cartels for the police to contend with. Still, Dela Rosa wants something like that.

Second has to do with legislation. The country has an Anti-Wiretapping Law, where wire-tapping can only be allowed if treason or rebellion is involved, not for illegal drugs. Dela Rosa wants the law amended to be similar to Colombia's. I only hope it is not abused, just like so many things in this country.

Third has to do with confiscating properties and assets of known drug lords in favor of the government. Since these are supposed "fruits of crime,"then the government should have the right to forfeit.

But according to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, there needs to be a "rethink" on how to deal with the illegal drug trade. Human rights must be at the center of policy. Victims of illegal drugs should not be victimized further. It is a health problem, and not a law enforcement problem. Many become involved in drugs because of poverty. Rehabilitation is also a key in dealing with the drug problem.

In fact, I don't think anything was mentioned along the lines that killing drug suspects is effective in stopping the proliferation of the illegal drug trade. It may be effective on a short term, but not on a long term basis. That is why drugs still exist even as many countries have waged their own wars against drugs.

I'm sure Dela Rosa has learned a lot from the conference. I also hope that whatever he has learned can be applied to the country's own war against illegal drugs, to make it more effective, and I dare say it, acceptable. It is good to learn from those who have already been there and done that.

korina_abs@yahoo.com.

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