New PDEA head Villanueva devised strategy that evolved into ‘Tokhang’
MANILA, Philippines — Newly appointed Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) Director-General Wilkins Villanueva said his first order of business was to ensure his agents were safe and prepared to wage the war on drugs in the time of the new coronavirus pandemic.
“We are also front-liners, only covert,” he told the Inquirer in a phone interview. “We don’t want to lose anymore people. We are just few, 2,000 more or less nationwide.”
He said PDEA agents could not use personal protective equipment during buy-bust operations but could do so when serving a warrant while observing physical distancing.
Villanueva, 54, assured Filipinos that he would strive to meet their expectations of transparency, fielding professional and dedicated agents, and massive targeting of sources of illegal drugs.
While keeping safe, their targets won’t change, he said.
“We will go after the big fish,” Villanueva said.
On limited time
He said he would aim to “make not just a big dent, but a big hole in the illegal drug trade” after he takes the PDEA’s helm from Aaron Aquino, who was appointed by President Duterte on May 22 as president and chief executive officer of the Clark International Airport Corp. (Ciac).
“We only have a short time left to end this drug problem,” he told reporters in Cagayan de Oro City where he had been based as head of the PDEA’s Northern Mindanao office before his promotion. “PDEA will never lose its sight even if our time is limited and the pandemic is still here. We will see to it that our goal is achieved.”
To illegal drug dealers in the region, he said: “I will leave here with a warning: To those who refuse to heed, I will eventually catch you. I will keep tab on you, I will surely find ways to look for you.”
Villanueva said he would also push for the passage of the Magna Carta for PDEA employees, noting that every time an operative dies in the line of duty, the agency has to beg for financial assistance for the fallen agent as it has no funds of its own for burial and other expenses.
Villanueva, who graduated from the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) in 1988, helped develop most of the community interface programs of the PDEA and the Philippine National Police, including one that evolved into “Oplan Tokhang (Knock and Plead).”
He started his career as an antidrug enforcer in the defunct PNP narcotics group after his graduation from the PMA. He is considered among the pioneers of the PDEA when the agency was created in July 2002.
As a police official in Davao City in 2003, he conceptualized a strategy of interpersonal communication and counseling for drug offenders which was adopted by then city police chief Ronald dela Rosa.
This evolved into Oplan Tokhang where policemen visited homes of drug suspects and urged them to surrender or stop their illegal activity.
The barangay antidrug abuse councils (Badac) originated from Villanueva’s master’s thesis in public administration at the Ateneo de Davao University.
He first instituted a Badac in Davao City as PDEA Davao regional director and was able to clear all barangays in the city of narcotics infestation.
Villanueva retired from the PNP as a police lieutenant colonel when he was appointed in 2009 as Metro Manila’s PDEA director where he was able to lead large anti-illegal drug busts which involved the dismantling of clandestine “shabu” (crystal meth) laboratories, confiscating of large hauls of shabu and arresting big-time narcotics traders.
After a short stint as head of the Bureau of Customs’ central intelligence and investigation service, he returned to the PDEA to head its Northern Mindanao office and on Tuesday was told that he had been appointed director-general of the agency.
“It was a pleasant surprise. Like all other people in the agency, the position is something that I have been aspiring for. I thank President Duterte for giving me his trust and confidence,” Villanueva told the Inquirer in a phone interview.
At Clark Freeport, the Clark Investors and Locators Association (Cila), and the Metro Angeles Chamber of Commerce and Industry Inc. (Maccii) welcomed Aquino’s appointment as head of the state-owned Ciac.
Frank Villanueva, Cila president and Maccii chair, said Aquino “can be an effective head for the Ciac.” Aquino replaced Jeff Bingcang, Ciac officer in charge.
Villanueva said Aquino “seems to be a firm but consultative leader with an untainted record.”
As former director of the Central Luzon police and a native of Tarlac province, Aquino was familiar with the “lay of the land,” he said.
—With reports from Jigger J. Jerusalem and Tonette Orejas
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