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Senators want more drug arrests

By: - Reporter / @TarraINQ
/ 12:06 AM September 07, 2016
BATTLE-READY Members of a Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) police team raid a house in a Pasig City slum to serve a search warrant as part of President Duterte’s deadly campaign against illegal drug trafficking.  AFP

BATTLE-READY Members of a Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) police team raid a house in a Pasig City slum to serve a search warrant as part of President Duterte’s deadly campaign against illegal drug trafficking. AFP

WINNING the war on drugs is not just about the body count, but the number of drug suspects sent to jail.

Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian on Tuesday called on the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) to boost its prosecution capability, saying he was dismayed by the dismal conviction rate of the country’s chief anti-illegal drugs agency.

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This as Gatchalian and several senators expressed support for the anti-drug agencies’ requests for a raise in their budgets for 2017, citing bigger enforcement, prosecution and rehabilitation needs as they confront the magnitude of drug addiction in the country.

“The fight against illegal drugs is not measured by the number of people killed but by the number imprisoned and made to face the law,” Gatchalian told reporters after Tuesday’s hearing of the Senate finance committee on the proposed 2017 budget of
antidrug agencies.

During the nearly 3-hour hearing, PDEA Director General Isidro Lapeña revealed that only 6,131—or 26 percent—of 23,776 resolved cases from 2002 to 2016 led to conviction, while the rest were dismissed or led to acquittal of the accused.

Lapeña said cases were lost due to procedural problems, including lack of evidence, inconsistency in witness testimony, and irregularities in arrest, search and seizure, among other things.

“For me, this is really unacceptable. This is procedural, so this means it is PDEA’s fault,” Gatchalian said, adding the agency should address the problem “or else we lose the war.”

Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri suggested increasing PDEA’s budget for legal services to bolster its roster of lawyers.

“[The conviction rate] has to be improved because this war is not just about how many have been killed, but how many you are able to send to jail,” he said.

PDEA asked for P1.853-billion for next year, raising its initial request by P635.526 million to build new regional offices and buy vehicles, communication and surveillance equipment, and firearms, ammunition and protective gear for its agents.

The Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) requested P206.379 million, even as it has been estimated that boosting rehabilitation efforts would require P4 billion, given the number of drug pushers and users surrendering.

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“We are at war. This is the first time we are winning the battle… well probably not the war yet. We don’t want the momentum to stop. We have to support them,” Sen. JV Ejercito said.

Gatchalian said in an interview he was “disappointed” by the DDB’s measly proposal given its requirements.

“In my 15 years of public service, it is only now I’m seeing [drug suspects] volunteering to surrender. But it’s such a waste that there is no intervention. They surrender, have their names listed, then go back to the community—no follow-up, no nothing,” he said.

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