PDEA wages staunch anti-drug war, second chance for surrenderers

The year 2018 saw a stronger and more intense campaign of the government against illegal drugs. More than just going after the culprits behind drug hauls, big or small, the Duterte administration has also stepped up its plan towards recovery and rehabilitation of drug surrenderers who want to turn over a new leaf. All these efforts, geared towards a drug-free Philippines, are slowly gaining ground.

The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) announced that more than 9,000 barangays had been declared drug cleared since President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office.

At least 9,503 out of the 42,044 barangays (villages) in the country have been declared drug-cleared as of November 30.

As of this posting, a total of 22,641 barangays have yet to be cleared of illegal drugs.

A total of 303,533 drug surrenderers have graduated from the Recovery and Wellness Program (RWP), undertaken both by the government and the private sector across the country as part of the administration’s campaign to holistically address the illegal drug problem.

The figure can be broken down into 151,385 surrenderers who graduated from the RWP initiated by the PNP and 152,148 from supported community centers from July 1, 2016 to November 3, 2018.

Raps filed over multi-bilion shabu smuggling

One of PDEA’s significant accomplishments this year is the filing of criminal complaints before the Department of Justice against various individuals, including former PDEA and PNP officials, for their alleged involvement in the smuggling of magnetic lifters that were found to contain billions of pesos worth of illegal drugs at the Manila International Container Port (MICP) last August.

Facing a complaint for violation of Section 4 (Importation of Dangerous Drugs) Section 5 in relation to Section 26 (Attempt or Conspiracy), Section 32 (Liability to a Person Violating any Regulation Issued by the Board) in relation to Section 30 (Criminal Liability of Officers), Section 3 (ee), PD 1829, Section 1(c) Obstruction of Justice; The Revised Penal Code, Art. 208; Republic Act No.3019, Section 3(E), are former Senior Supt. Eduardo Acierto, former PDEA Deputy Director General for Administration Ismael Gonzales Fajardo Jr., former Customs Intelligence Agent Jimmy Guban, Police Insp. Lito Pirote, and Joseph Dimayuga, as principals.

Also included as respondents were private individuals Chan Yee Wah, Emily Daprosa Luquingan, Vedastro Cabral Baraquel Jr., Maria Lagrimas Abelgas Catipan, Alex B. Padlan, Zhauq Quan/Zhang Quan, Gorgonio V. Necessario, Myra C. Tan, Terence L. Uytingban, Avelino S. Tendera and entities SN Logistics and Ben Line Agencies Philippines for the magnetic lifters found at the MICP.

PDEA also filed cases against entities and personalities being linked to the magnetic lifters found in General Mariano Alvarez, Cavite.

Among them are Nonito Estorninos Jr.,Li Jie of He Zhong Consultancy Co., Inc.; Ramon Tuyay, John Leric Olavario, Maribeth Olavario, Minerva Verso, and Chung-Chun Hsu of Red Day Machinery Parts Corp.; Le Thi Thuy, Luu Thi Thu Huong, Kan Yi Hong of Yida Equipment Crane Limited Company; Du Quoc Duong of Dong Trieu Trading and Import/Export Service Trading Company Limited;

Chen Wei Cheng, Ping Cheung Fung, Roy Wang, Roy and two others from All Systems Logistics, Inc. who have yet to be identified; Marina de la Cruz Signapan, Alexander Dames, Katrina Cuasay and Miguella Santos of SMYD Trading; and customs officials and officers — lawyer Zsae Carrie de Guzman, head, X-Ray Inspection Project; Benjamin Cajucom, shift supervisor, X-Ray Inspection Project; Manuel Martinez, operator, X-Ray Inspection Project; Dolores Domingo, appraiser; and seven others identified only through their aliases.

The filing of cases by PDEA against these personalities stemmed from the various hearings of both the House of Representatives and the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee.

PDEA Director General Aaron N. Aquino said the agency is convinced that after a thorough investigation, these personalities may be held liable for the violations.

“This is to inform the public that PDEA is serious to come up with airtight cases against all personalities behind illegal drug transactions,” Aquino said.

A day after the discovery of illegal drugs at the MICP in August, similar magnetic lifters were found abandoned at a warehouse in Unit 4, Lot 1-8, CRS Subdivision, Barangay F. Reyes, GMA, Cavite that were believed to have contained illegal drugs weighing about 1,618 kg. and estimated market value of at least PHP6.8 billion.

Meanwhile, Aquino said that there is no evidence that former Customs commissioner Isidro Lapeña was involved in the shabu shipment that slipped into the country through the industrial magnetic lifters.

“We haven’t seen any evidence that will link former commissioner Lapeña sa mga kaso (to the cases). And that is why he was not included in the filing of the case. Inupuan ng legal team ko (My legal team scrutinized it) and they reviewed everything and they gave their results to me. And it was found out that he is not directly linked in these particular cases,” Aquino told reporters at the DOJ after the filing of criminal cases against 44 individuals involved in the transaction.

“PDEA assures the public that all resources will be tapped by this agency to ensure the successful prosecution of all these cases,” Aquino said.

He, however, said they will submit their findings to the watchdog agencies in the executive department to investigate Lapeña’s possible administrative liability.

“(A)fter this, we will provide copies to the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (and) maybe the Ombudsman. I think they have more authority to file an administrative case if there is any,” he added.

Aquino confirmed that those who remain at large include Fajardo and Acierto.

The PDEA chief added that customs intelligence officer Jimmy Guban will be held liable for his part in the transactions.

“We consider him as a principal respondent, we actually consider him as a principal person of interest,” he said.

Sparing no one in anti-drug campaign

The total count of drug personalities arrested since the start of Duterte’s term up to November 30, 2018 is at 164,265. Included in the total figure are 606 government workers — 260 of them elected officials, 66 uniformed personnel, and 280 government employees.

Official records also showed that only 5,050 drug personalities died in the conduct of anti-illegal drug operations during the said period.

In the recent Real Numbers press briefing, PDEA Spokesperson Derrick Carreon addressed criticisms from groups questioning the accuracy of the numbers they have presented and said their data have undergone a rigid process of data collation before being released.

“Ito po pinaninindigan namin. Ito ay masusing pinag-aralan at tinignan. Ito po ang tunay na pigura. Sanay na po kami na maraming naglalabas diyan ng kaliwa’t-kanang iba-ibang numero, hindi po natin alam kung saan nanggagaling itong mga numero nila (We stand by these numbers. These were closely studied. These are the real figures. We’re used to those groups releasing different figures left and right, we do not know where these numbers come from),” Carreon said.

Carreon added that 159 of the arrested drug personalities were foreign nationals — 48 were part of Chinese drug syndicates while 12 were Americans, 25 were Taiwanese, and 74 other foreigners.

PDEA records said some PHP128.96 million worth of illegal drugs and equipment were seized in November alone. However, the figure was PHP25.19 billion for illegal drugs and equipment seized since July 2016 or the start of Duterte’s term.

A total of 296 members of law enforcement agencies were dismissed from service for drug use while 142 personnel were sacked for other drug-related offenses.

From July 2016 to November 30, 2018, authorities also arrested 1,861 minors. The figure can be broken down into 1,001 pushers; 501 possessors; 255 users; 93 visitors of drug den; six drug den maintainers; three drug den employees and two cultivators.

According to the Department of Social and Welfare Development (DSWD), the rescued minors, after court proceedings, had been turned over to the Bahay Pagasa centers of LGUs within eight hours of police custody, before turning them over to the DSWD.

Since they are minors, the DSWD said they would not be put behind bars together with hardened criminals.

Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Assistant Secretary Marie Rafael, however, called for a review of the Juvenile Justice Law to determine its effectivity due to data, which showed that 1,001 children aged 9-17 have been tagged as drug pushers and rescued by authorities in anti-drug operations.

Rafael said the Duterte administration leaves the issue of determining the proper age of criminal liability to experts and policymakers in Congress.

“If we lower down the age of accountability for minors, because at age 17, they can go further, they can even kill. Nakikita po natin dito that pushers, yung age of discernment ng isang bata nowadays, by 15 kaya, alam na niya ang tama at mali? (We can see that when children become pushers, we look at the age of discernment of a child nowadays. At age 15, does he/she know what is right or wrong?),” Rafael said.

For its part, the PNP said it supports the measure to lower the age of criminal liability.

The PNP added that parents of children involved in criminal activities may also be punished, citing Republic Act 7610.

“These children have no business selling drugs or being out-of-school. It is about time that we give this responsibility to our parents to take good care of their children.. We would like to see this law applied to parents seriously neglecting their children,” PNP deputy spokesperson PSupt. Kimberly Molitas said.

Molitas added that poverty should never be used as an excuse to commit crimes.

Balay Silangan: A home for a new beginning

Meanwhile, the PDEA has opened community-based reformation centers aimed to rehabilitate drug offenders – known as Balay Silangan Reformation Center, or “house of hope”, it is a temporary shelter intended to reform drug offenders into self-sufficient and law-abiding members of society.

“The Balay Silangan Reformation Center welcomes with open arms drug offenders who aspire (for) a renewed life and have chosen to be on the side of the government rather than help peddle illegal drugs in the streets,” Aquino said.

“The program is reformatory in nature. It is an alternative intervention for drug personalities who are not users and are not eligible to undergo medical treatment and rehabilitation in facilities supervised by the Department of Health (DOH),” Aquino added.

The PDEA chief added that the initiative is the agency’s pilot harm-reduction program aimed at boosting efforts to clear 26,000 barangays in the country from illegal drugs.

He said this program shows that PDEA values life despite pursuing war against drugs, noting that government agencies want former drug offenders to have the opportunity to rehabilitate, to regain their dignity and place in our society.

“PDEA is continuously enhancing its operations and programs for the holistic resolution of the country’s drug problem by clearing barangay by barangay from the drug menace. Balay Silangan, as a priority initiative, is one of them,” Aquino stressed.

The Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) Regulation Number 2, Series of 2018, which was approved and adopted on January 24, 2018, laid the groundwork for Balay Silangan.

The Balay Silangan National Oversight Committee, whose task is to oversee the implementation of the program, is chaired by PDEA and its members include the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), the Department of Social Welfare and Development , Technical Education and Skills Development Administration, Parole and Probation Administration, Bureau of Corrections, Department of Trade and Industry, Department of National Defense, the Philippine National Police, and the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

Balay Silangan had already opened in the provinces of Sarangani and Nueva Ecija and also in Caloocan City.

Encouraging poll bets to undergo drug test

Meanwhile, the PDEA proposed the conduct of a surprise drug test for aspirants in next year’s mid-term elections.

“Wala naman plano. Bigla lang pumasok sa utak ko. (The drug test) should be surprised, otherwise, we are not doing (it) properly. It doesn’t serve the purpose. Mas maganda surprise drug test sa lahat ng kandidato (There is no definite plan. It just entered my mind. The drug test should be surprise, otherwise, we are not doing it properly. It doesn’t serve the purpose. It would be better if there would be a surprise drug test for all candidates),” PDEA Director General Aaron Aquino said.

“Hindi ko pa alam kung legal or not. Kung ako tatanungin, mas gusto ko yung ganun (I am not sure yet if this is legal or not. If you ask me, I would rather it happens),” he added.

In a related development, the Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) encouraged aspiring candidates to submit to a mandatory drug testing once they are elected.

DDB Regulation No. 13, series of 2018, provides for the establishment and institutionalization of drug-free workplace policies in all government offices, including the conduct of authorized drug testing for local officials and appointive public officers.

This covers all appointive public officers in all offices, including all constitutional bodies, departments, bureaus, and agencies of the national government, government-owned and -controlled corporations, state and local universities and colleges, and elective officials of local government units.

Any personnel found positive for use of dangerous drugs will, at first offense, be charged with grave misconduct and may be dismissed from public service.

Heads of agencies or local chief executives, who fail to formulate or implement a Drug-Free Workplace Policy within two months after the effectivity of the Board Regulation, will also be penalized under Section 32, Article II of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 or Republic Act No. 9165.

A prison term of six months to four years and a fine ranging from PHP10,000 to PHP50,000 would be imposed on any person found violating any regulation issued by the Board.

“As civil servants, we must lead by example of living a healthy and drug-free lifestyle. We cannot expect the Filipino people to be drug-free if we, ourselves, are involved in these substances,” DDB Chairman Catalino Cuy said in a statement.

Board Regulation No. 13, series of 2018, supplements an existing regulation on a one-strike policy among government officials and employees through establishing clear protocols to ensure that the government remains drug-free.

The regulation was signed on Aug. 30 and took effect on Oct. 6 after publication in three newspapers of general circulation. (PNA)