PDEA: No mishandling of kids caught in drug dens
The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) has denied accusations that its operatives mishandled the “rescue” of 12 minors who were allegedly working for drug pushers in Navotas City.
On Wednesday, PDEA Director General Aaron Aquino and members of the agency’s Special Enforcement Service raided a cluster of drug dens at Barangay North Boulevard Bay North. The operation led to the arrest of 16 suspected drug personalities. The PDEA also took into custody 12 children aged 4 to 15 who were reportedly selling drugs in the Navotas Fish Port area.
“The recent operation is part of our ‘Oplan Sagip Bata,’ the first major operation in the area against drug pushers who are using kids,” PDEA spokesperson Derrick Carreon told the Inquirer on Thursday.
He said the project was also part of the agency’s harm reduction advocacy aimed at addressing the problem of children being abused in illegal drug activities while implementing an aggressive supply reduction strategy.
The Navotas antidrug operation, however, drew a lot of flak online, with netizens accusing Aquino of forcing the minors to admit to using “shabu” (crystal meth) while showing their faces in public.
“Children are victims twice-over by the system that exploited them in the trade, and by police who don’t know how to handle children in conflict with the law (CICL),” human rights lawyer Kristina Conti said in a Facebook post.
The legal counsel of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers told the Inquirer in an interview that the operation exposed many lapses committed by PDEA and Aquino himself.
“Assuming that PDEA was circumspect in [its] surveillance of the area and [it] confirmed the presence of minors, [the agents] should have proceeded to the area at a time when there were no or [just a few] children on site,” Conti said.
She added that the agency should have coordinated with local officials or a social worker before conducting the operation because of the special consideration for minors as mandated by law.
“The PDEA should ensure the children are not subjected to humiliation, handcuffing, restraint and embarrassment. [They should [be] separated from adult offenders even when being transported,” Conti said.
“Aquino confronting the children, asking them, ‘Do you use drugs?’ ‘How many times have you used drugs?’ is outright a violation of the right to be silent and to be presumed innocent. The harsh, brash tone he used felt more like an interrogation than a friendly reminder. This is an obvious derogation of constitutional rights,” she added.
Carreon, however, stressed that PDEA strictly followed the guidelines outlined by Republic Act 9344 or the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act, which describes how best to deal with CICL or minors accused of committing a crime.
He denied that PDEA agents paraded the kids around or arrested them.
“On the contrary, we launched this operation with the noblest of intentions to save these poor children who were being abused by local drug syndicates as runners and even as maintainers of drug dens. They have even admitted to using shabu,” Carreon said.
Minors treated well
According to PDEA, the rescued minors were brought to its headquarters and “properly fed, cleaned up and processed per the provisions of RA 9344.”
The children were not subjected to drug tests either and they would be turned over to social workers for appropriate intervention, it added.
Carreon said that it was up to social workers to decide whether or not the minors should be admitted to Bahay Pag-Asa, a transformational facility of the Department of Social Welfare and Development, or to turn them over to the custody of their parents or guardians.