CHR ‘hopeful’ on rule of law with PDEA now leading ‘drug war’
No less than the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) – a staunch critic of the administration’s “war on drugs” for its purported human rights violations – has expressed approval of President Rodrigo Duterte’s recent directive designating the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) as the sole lead in the nationwide campaign against illegal drugs.
In a statement issued on Monday, CHR spokesperson Jacqueline Ann C. de Guia said: “We are hopeful that professionalism will govern PDEA in implementing the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act and that the campaign against drugs will be carried out with strict adherence to the rule of law.”
Mr. Duterte’s order removed the Philippine National Police (PNP) as the lead agency in the anti-narcotics operation across the country.
“This development is an indication that the administration is willing to listen to public clamor for the observance of due process in its campaign against illegal drugs,” De Guia also said.
“We also look forward to a more collaborative relationship with PDEA towards shaping a strategy that is more respectful of life and human dignity,” De Guia added.
Under the PNP, the administration’s war on drugs allegedly resulted in the killing of close to 4,000 “drug personalities” from July 1, 2016 to August 29, 2017.
Human rights advocates have described these deaths as “extrajudicial killings” or “summary executions” especially since the police’s claim that suspects fought back during anti-illegal drug operations was not determined to be so by any court and bought by the public.
A recent Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey showed that majority of Filipinos does not believe that suspects were killed because they fought police during anti-narcotics raids. Incidentally, the decline in President Duterte’s approval and trust ratings were deemed to be largely due to the bloody war on drugs.
But PNP Dir. Gen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa asserted during a forum in Quezon City on Monday that the police-led anti-drug drive indicated the value they put on life, citing the 1.3 million illegal drug users, who purportedly surrendered to authorities.
“But if the trust rating on the President truly shows the sentiments of the people, we have to do something,” Dela Rosa said.
Dela Rosa said the PNP will now maintain a “hands-off” policy on anti-narcotics operations, unless the PDEA, which is under the Office of the President and has been designated as the chair of an Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs, would seek police reinforcement in “special cases.”
The PDEA earlier said they would be focusing on “high-value and high-impact targets” as they took over the wheel for the Duterte administration’s war on drugs.
PDEA Dir. Gen. Aaron Aquino had said that among their agenda “would be the strengthening of PDEA’s internal cleansing program through continued internal counter-intelligence efforts and lifestyle checks among our ranks to maintain the Agency’s integrity and moral ascendancy.”
Aquino also vowed to “establish refuges to usher thousands of drug surrenderers on the road to recovery. These centers have the capacity to rebuild their shattered lives and make themselves whole again.”
While the CHR maintains that police presence must be sustained as deterrent to illegal drugs activities in communities, having PDEA at the lead “will allow the PNP to devote more effort to solving and preventing ordinary crimes, including vigilante killings and possible EJKs resulting from police operations.”
The PNP had earlier agreed to forward to the CHR case records on alleged summary executions in the so called drug war, but were barred by Mr. Duterte from doing so.
The CHR then urged for a policy shift in the government’s anti-illegal drug campaign “to a holistic strategy that is compliant with international human rights standards, and prioritizes health, including access to medicines, rehabilitation, and poverty alleviation issues.”
Meanwhile, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Public Affairs Office chief Col. Edgard Arevalo said: “The AFP has always been in support role to PDEA, Philippine National Police (PNP) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) in any illegal drugs operations, unless we are otherwise requested to lead especially in conflict-affected areas.”
“In line with the February 2017 MOA, the AFP has been a significant force provider to the anti-illegal drugs operations, especially in conflict-affected areas, particularly where conditions for insurgency, secessionism, and terrorism persist,” said AFP chief of staff Gen. Eduardo Año.
The AFP’s coordination with the PDEA is enshrined in a memorandum of agreement signed in February. /kga
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