Only P2B for drug war? Lacson wonders if Duterte losing interest
MANILA, Philippines — Is President Rodrigo Duterte losing interest in the war on drugs?
Sen. Panfilo Lacson raised this question on Tuesday as he took note of the “ridiculously insignificant” P2 billion allocated in the proposed budget for 2021 for the Philippine Anti-Illegal Drugs Strategy (PADS), which involves several government agencies.
Lacson said the President had always emphasized the need to fight the drug menace, and yet the budget for the PADS was less than 1 percent of the P4.5-trillion budget for next year.
Lead agency excluded
“The P2.053-billion proposed budget under the NEP (national expenditure program) tagged for the Philippine Anti-Illegal Drugs Strategy is a ridiculously insignificant amount considering that it involves a multiagency approach [to] fighting the drug menace, which the President no less has always emphasized as a continuing top priority program of his administration,” Lacson said in a text message to the Inquirer.
“Is this a case of not putting one’s money where his mouth is?” he added.
Adding insult to injury, he said, was the failure to include the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) in the PADS budget when it is the lead agency in the drug war.
Failing to fund agencies does not make the administration that responsive to the drug war, which has notched thousands of deaths, he said.
In the Senate budget hearing, Lacson wondered why a supposedly top priority program was getting a small portion of the 2021 budget. “Has the President lost interest in the fight against illegal drugs?” he asked.
Undersecretary Benjamin Reyes of the Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) said he did not think so. “In his every pronouncement, he still mentions drugs,” he said.
Drug board gets only P2B
But Lacson said making a statement was different from practical support.
“It’s easy to say ‘I hate drugs,’ but if you don’t provide it with a budget, how would you defeat the drug problem?” the senator said.
Reyes said the DDB had requested P9 billion for the PADS, but the program was given only P2 billion.
The requested amounts for the PDEA were not granted, he said, and the reason given for this was that the mandate was with the Philippine National Police, which is the front-liner in the war on drugs.
But Lacson said the PDEA was the lead agency in the campaign. “If you give the budget to the PNP and not to the PDEA, what is its financial ascendancy over the front-liners? Who will coordinate when the funds are given to law enforcement?” he said.
PDEA chief Wilkins Villanueva said he planned to meet with the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to discuss the funding for the campaign against drugs.
Efforts to meet with the DBM had been hampered by the coronavirus pandemic, Villanueva said.
Lacson also noted that of the P2 billion for the PADS, P1.28 billion was for the Department of Health, P664.91 million for the Department of the Interior and Local Government, and the rest for the Department of Justice and other executive offices.
He asked if this meant the drug war was considered more of a health problem than a law enforcement matter.
Reyes said there had to be a balanced approach and the budget should be divided equally between the two.
The President has constantly defended his drug war from criticisms and expressions of concern stemming from the mounting death toll and abuses in the campaign.
Other senators also questioned the cuts in the 2021 budget of the DDB and the PDEA.
More funds requested
The DDB and the PDEA asked the Senate for additional funding for several programs not included in the administration’s national expenditure program, including the saliva drug testing for drivers, the strengthening of the interdiction units to catch smuggled drugs at the country’s ports, and the purchase of semi-armored vehicles for agents.
Villanueva appealed to the Senate for an extra P1.6 billion on top of the PDEA’s proposed P2.73-billion budget for 2021, which is smaller than its P2.78-billion allocation for 2020. The P1.6 billion includes funding for security services, construction of additional offices, and laboratory equipment.
Sen. Imee Marcos expressed alarm at the reduction and asked which of the additional programs Villanueva was seeking funding for were considered priority.
Villanueva said he would like to give more attention to the construction of an office in Northern Mindanao and the purchase of semi-armored vehicles, especially for Mindanao, to protect the lives of PDEA agents.
He said agents had been killed during drug operations in Lanao del Sur. “At least our people would have the chance to remain alive,” he said.
He asked for funding support for the newly established seaport, airport and land interdiction unit, which checks the routes for smuggling drugs.
Reyes said he hoped Congress would include in the 2021 budget the P308 million for the DDB’s pilot saliva drug testing with the Land Transportation Office and for support for community-based programs after it was slashed from its proposed budget.
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