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Narcos get virus lull

Kristina Maralit

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The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crisis has slowed down not just the movement of people, goods, and the country’s economy. It has also slackened the government’s campaign against illegal drugs, the Duterte administration’s top anti-narcotics official lamented Friday.

Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) Director General Wilkins Villanueva said the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly impacted the agency’s drug-clearing operations in barangays, with local government units’ efforts mostly concentrated on battling the contagion.

Still, Villanueva assured that the agency, along with the Philippine National Police (PNP) and other law enforcement arms of the government, will not cease in exerting efforts to rid the country of the drug menace.

“Our drug-clearing operations in barangays have slowed down because of the pandemic. Local governments are busy with COVID-19 concerns, so, our rehabilitation program have been stymied. But it will not stop us from clearing barangays at that was what Chief PNP and I agreed on,” Villanueva said during his high-level meeting Philippine National Police chief PGen. Camilo Cascolan, National Bureau of Investigation director Eric Distor and Presidential Communications Operations Office Assistant Secretary Marie Rafael.

Grassroots campaign
“We will go straight to the barangays. Why? Because narcotics, no matter where it came from, may it be China, the Golden Triangle or Africa, it will surely land in the barangays,” he added.

Villanueva last 6 August, or 702 days before the deadline set by President Rodrigo Duterte to eradicate the country’s problem with illegal drugs, led the launching of the agency’s Barangay Drug Clearing Program (BDCP) which aims to clear the remaining15,388 drug-affected barangays by June 2022.

These barangays represent 36.6 percent of 42,045 barangays in the country that are still plagued by illegal drugs.

The PDEA chief shared that from July 2016 to 31 August 2020, 20,165 of the target number of villages have been declared as cleared, with most of the remaining drug-affected barangays spread out in Luzon and Visayas.

“Most of the affected barangays are in big cities, the metropolis. It’s like this, wherever there is money, there is drugs. And if your barangay happens to be in a city where there is a lot of money, then definitely your barangay in one way or another will be affected by illegal drugs,” stated Villanueva.

“We are now at the phase where we do identification of target personalities and the conduct of intervention program for those identified drug personalities. For the remaining 33 percent of drug-affected barangays, we are headed towards the intervention program,” he added.

Real numbers bared
Meanwhile, latest data from government agencies involved in the war on illegal drugs, also known as Real Numbers PH, show that 5,856 drug suspects have been killed in 176,777 drug operations conducted until 31 August 2020.

Said figure is way below the more than 27,000 deaths critics and human rights advocates claimed to have resulted in the President’s unforgiving fight against illegal drugs.

For the same period, 885 government employees were also collared in stings broken down into 431 government workers, 352 elected officials, and 102 personnel from the military and police. Drug suspects arrested totaled to 256,788 with some 10,308 of whom were tagged as high value targets (HVT).

Narcotics and drug laboratory equipment worth P53.46 billion were also seized with methamphetamine, or shabu, accounting for P43.69 billion.

More than six hundred drug dens and 17 clandestine laboratories were also raided and dismantled during the said period.

Villanueva disclosed that PDEA, along with other law enforcement agencies, will resume `Oplan Tokhang’ once the COVID-19 crisis eases.

Knock-and-plead
As one of the administration’s way of addressing the drug problem, Oplan Tokhang became controversial and gained notoriety because of it being perceived as “a war against the poor.”

Villanueva clarified that it is not an anti-drug operation but a means to convince suspected drug users and pushers to peacefully turn themselves in.

Under Oplan Tokhang, to be done particularly in areas which have no barangay anti-drug abuse council, law enforcers would “knock-and-plead” with residents believed to be involved in the illegal drugs trade to mend their ways.

“The problem here in Metro Manila is that, Tokhang turns into an anti-drug operation. What is Tokhang for? That house visitation is just letting the people in the house, the house of the alleged drug personality where we will say `Hey, you’re in our list of durg users. Just go to the barangay and avail of the intervention program.

That’s the only purpose of Tokhang,” the PDEA director explained.

“We will knock on their doors, convince them to surrender because intervention is available. Now, if they don’t surrender, then we’ll resort to anti-drug operations because you refuse it,” he added.

Meanwhile, the PNP will conduct a case buildup against suspected drug personalities should they refuse to peacefully surrender to authorities.

“We will prove to the court that we need to arrest you because of illegal activities related to illegal drugs,” Cascolan, co-author of `Oplan Double Barrel,’ sequel to Oplan Tokhang which centered on HVT, stated.

He also reiterated the PNP’s resolve to prosecute and put behind bars policemen who are purportedly serving either as drug pushers or protectors of drug syndicates.

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