Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella holds a press briefing in Malacañang. Presidential Photo/King Rodriguez

Palace: PDEA's takeover of drug war 'not a question of failure'
(philstar.com) - October 12, 2017 - 9:00am

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision to designate the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency as the “sole agency” in charge of the drug war was not an admission of failure, Malacañang said Thursday.

In a memorandum dated October 10, Duterte ordered the Philippine National Police and other “ad hoc anti-drug task force” to leave the implementation of the drug war to the PDEA amid simmering public outrage over alleged police abuse in the continuing crackdown.

READ: Duterte: PDEA now 'sole agency' in charge of drug war

“It’s not a question of failure, it’s a question of more effectivity, optimizing the efforts, and they are widening the scope of responsibility,” Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said.

Abella was responding to a reporter’s question on whether such a move by the president was meant to acknowledge “some failure” on the part of the police.

The spokesman, without giving statistical data or supporting details, then qualified that street distribution networks of drug lords have degraded, adding that the PDEA will now target “higher echelons of the syndicates as well as their protectors in government.”

“PDEA will now bring policy focus, expert performance standards, high-level coordination of oversight, and centralized intelligence collection to the war on drugs,” Duterte’s spokesman said.

“In other words, there is now an elevation of the campaign against illegal drugs and so, PDEA has now widened its scope,” he added.

“At this stage, the president... has made an informed decision to empower PDEA to do so.”

Duterte issued the a few days after his latest net satisfaction score suffered from its biggest fall since he became president. Among the events in the news when the survey was conducted was the death of a minor in the hands of Caloocan City cops that triggered rare street protests.

The memorandum also comes on the heels of PNP Director General Ronald Dela Rosa calling out critics of the drug war for being ingrates. He has since apologized for the remarks.

After Duterte sidelined the police force from the narcotics crackdown, Dela Rosa also on Thursday announced that he has ordered cops to stop all programs related to the anti-illegal drugs campaign.

READ: Bato: PNP now hands off on drug war

Oplan Tokhang and Oplan Double Barrel Reloaded are among the programs that have been stopped following Dela Rosa's order, according to a report from radio dzMM.

The police will now focus on other crimes and on internal "cleansing", Dela Rosa also said. Internal cleansing refers to operations to apprehend corrupt police officers in the PNP's ranks.

"We are turning over the taks to PDEA... We'll just look for other things to work on, just not drugs for now," Dela Rosa said in Filipino during a press briefing.

Duterte, who easily won the race to Malacañang last year on a brutal law-and-order platform, has stoked international alarm for activating his fierce anti-drug campaign.

Early this year, the firebrand leader was forced to suspend Oplan Tokhang—a portmanteau of two words meaning to “knock” and “plead”—following the kidnapping and killing of South Korean businessman Jee Ick-joo in the hands of some policemen.

At that time, Duterte stripped the PNP and the National Bureau of Investigation of the authority to conduct anti-illegal drug operations and designated the PDEA—backed by the Army— to continue the campaign. He also abolished the anti-drug units of PNP and vowed to cleanse the police force of scalawags.

Citing lack of manpower in the anti-narcotics operations, the crime-busting president later decided to tap the police again in the war against illegal drugs as he stressed that only the qualified ones would be allowed to join the crackdown.

READ: Duterte brings back police into war on drugs

On Wednesday, three victims of the drug war filed petitions before the Supreme Court, asking for a halt to the war on drugs.

The petitioners, through legal counsel Free Legal Assistance Group, sought to put an end to alleged extrajudicial killings caused by the campaign against illegal drugs. 

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