Lacson to Robredo: Cut drug supply, watch your back
MANILA, Philippines — Vice President Leni Robredo’s war on drugs will focus on reducing the supply of narcotics in the country, but as she embarks on this campaign, she should always watch her back, according to Sen. Panfilo Lacson.
Lacson told reporters on Saturday that he had met with Robredo and discussed what she could do in her new role, which President Rodrigo Duterte handed to her in a fit of pique after she criticized what she said were the “senseless killings” in his administration’s centerpiece program.
Lacson said he would help Robredo in her new role and talked with her on Friday before she held her first meeting with members of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-illegal Drugs (Icad) where she was appointed cochair by the President.
As a lawmaker, Lacson said he would not have any formal role in the committee, but he would have open communication lines to the Vice President.
According to Lacson, the Vice President has a good grasp of the illegal drugs situation and had read up on the issue extensively.
“We agreed… that it would be better if we would refocus, shift the strategy on fighting drugs to supply constriction,” he said.
The focus of the drug war has been on the demand side, which targets mostly drug users and street peddlers.
Focusing on supply means making the street value of drugs prohibitive and taking down big-time dealers, Lacson pointed out.
Meeting with US Embassy
Robredo told reporters on Saturday she would meet US Embassy officials next week to ask for help as she takes on her new job in the Duterte administration.
“The help of the United States in this drug war is very important, especially when it comes to intelligence-gathering,” she said.
In a tweet on Friday, American Ambassador Sung Kim congratulated Robredo on her post and said he was looking forward “to continuing to work together as friends, partners [and] allies to support Philippine government drug demand reduction efforts.”
Lacson, a former Philippine National Police chief, said he would recommend officers who have retired and still in the service to assist Robredo.
According to Lacson, it was important for the Vice President to have a group of people she could trust and who could be relied upon to tell her about policemen “who are straying from the proper path and committing wrongs.”
“There are a lot of characters in this world she entered,” he said. “She should really watch her back all the time.”
Value of intel gathering
Lacson wasn’t supportive of a suggestion, which was made on Friday by Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency chief Aaron Aquino on Friday, that Robredo join antidrug sweeps because this might compromise the operations.
The presence of her security detail alone could tip off the targets of an operation, he pointed out, adding that the life of the second highest official of the land could also be put at risk.
During their meeting, Lacson said he stressed to Robredo the importance of gathering intelligence and briefed her on the resources available to her in the drug war.
There is P15 million available in the budget this year and there is supposed to be up to P104 million earmarked for the Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB), although the budget department only releases P77 million annually, he said.
Robredo can ask the President to lift the conditional veto that prevents the budget department from releasing the full amount to the DDB, Lacson said.
Lacson also suggested that Robredo work closely with the Department of Education on a campaign to steer the youth away from illegal drug use.
‘More humane’ view
Two groups advocating drug policy reform could help Robredo’s new thrust as they push for a “more humane” perspective on drug use.
“[There has to be] a recognition of drug use and low level drug selling as a socioeconomic and public health issue requiring appropriate, evidence-based responses that are anchored on human dignity and human rights,” said Cathy Alvarez, executive director of StreetLawPH, an organization of lawyers working for access to justice and humane drug policies in the Philippines.
According to NoBox Transitions Foundation Philippines, the government should make an honest assessment and review of its approach to drugs.
This entails regular monitoring, evaluation and research and “having a willingness to accept what’s not working,” the group said.
NoBox is a nongovernment organization that promotes evidence-based harm reduction strategies on drug use. It is also working on reforming drug-related policies and laws in various cities nationwide.
Right to health care
Both organizations have been working to help provide drug dependents the right to health care and other social services.
One of their proposals is to expand the means to measure the success of drug programs from the number of people killed, arrested or imprisoned to improving family and community relationships, decreasing stigma and improving access to employment and education.
The two groups believe decriminalization of drug use was essential for a “genuinely humane and health-based approach to the issue.”
At the House of Representatives, Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga supported a proposal by Agusan del Norte Rep. Robert “Ace” Barbers to invite Robredo to meet House members.
Barzaga said the House needed to know Robredo’s and Icad’s plans before Congress could take any legislative action in support of the antidrug campaign.
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