By Kuhlin Ceslie Gacula
The Duterte administration’s war on drugs is shifting focus, with government forces scouring the streets not to look for drug dependents and drug pushers but to rescue street children hooked on “solvent” to save them from being targeted by drug peddlers.
The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) on Tuesday launched the “Sagip Batang Solvent” program which aims to save street children and keep them away from involvement in illegal drug activities.
“What these children need is a sense of belonging. They belong to their homes under their parents’ care, and in schools where they are supposed to learn and grow, not in the streets where they are left to fend for themselves,” said PDEA Director General Aaron N. Aquino, who also serves as the project proponent.
Sagip Batang Solvent aims to create homey facilities” for rescued street children, Aquino said.
In addition, he said PDEA would also provide general interventions, like education, talent and skills development, dual training system, in partnership with industries, counseling and values formation, volunteerism program and livelihood and entrepreneurship training.
“Education and skills training are permanent solutions to the problem. It is about time we have a rescue program solely designed for children to keep them off the streets for good,” the PDEA chief said.
Drug war by the numbers
From July 2016 to 20 March 2018, the Philippine National Police and PDEA have conducted a total of 91,704 anti-drug operations leading to the arrest of 123,648 drug suspects. The police claim to have dismantled some 189 drug dens and clandestine laboratories and seizing an estimated P13.46 billion worth of methamphetamine hydrochloride or shabu during the period.
And while a majority of Filipinos support the war on drugs based on the September 2017 poll suggesting that 88 percent of Filipinos back the anti-drug operation, critics of President Rodrigo Duterte said the crackdown has targeted only the poor and resulted to thousands of alleged extrajudicial killings.
Rehab and rescue
But the latest move by PDEA underscores the government’s seeming shift in focus on its drug war, this time, rehabilitating and saving those most vulnerable to drug abuse – the street children.
Aquino explained the Sagip Batang Solvent project is anchored in Republic Act 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 and RA 9344 or the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act: Presidential Decree (PD) No.1619 or “Penalizing the use or possession or the unauthorized sale to minors of volatile substances for the purpose of inducing intoxication or in any manner changing, distorting or disturbing the auditory, visual or mental process”; United Nations on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC) Plan of Action and UN Children’s Rights.
PDEA has formed a technical working group to expand the details of the plan while extending an appeal to private companies to invest in this project as part of their corporate social responsibility (CSR) and support the government’s drug demand reduction efforts by lending financial assistance.
PDEA is set to hold meetings with the DSWD, the Department of Health and the Commission on Human Rights regarding the project.