MANILA – The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) on Friday said the first year of the Duterte administration’s war on drugs has been a success even as it admitted that much more have to be done to fully eradicate narcotics in the country.
In a news conference in Davao City, PDEA Director General Isidro Lapeña said the current leadership made more significant achievements in tackling the drug problem compared to the previous administration, citing the higher number of arrests, seizures of illegal drugs, and dismantling of drug laboratories.
The administration's fierce anti-drug campaign had drawn international criticism for alleged human rights violations, but government has asserted that it had not sanctioned such breaches, including alleged extrajudicial killings.
“I would say that we are successful,” Lapeña said.
“I would like to say, and I am happy to report, that while we have done so much, well so much more has to be done,” he added.
Lapeña, whose agency leads an inter-agency effort to stop the drug scourge in the country, said anti-drug gains during the Aquino administration pale in comparison to the current administration’s achievements.
He cited the 86,984 drug suspects arrested during the first year of the Duterte administration, compared to the 18,766 suspects arrested in the first year of the previous administration.
At least 302 government workers with alleged links to drugs were also arrested during Duterte's first year in power, compared to the 97 during the same period under Aquino.
At least nine drug laboratories were also dismantled and 152 suspected drug dens closed down during Duterte’s first year, Lapeña added.
The amount of seized methamphetamine hydrochloride (shabu), the drug of choice for many users in the country, was at 2,446 kilograms over the past 12 months, a haul worth roughly P12.62 billion.
Barely a third of this amount- 820 kilograms- was seized during the same period under Aquino.
Meanwhile, more than 1.3 million drug users and pushers surrendered during the administration's first year.
Duterte’s campaign against illegal drugs has been heavily criticized by human rights groups, which say innocent civilians have been killed as the president waged his war against the narcotics trade.
Police have brushed aside criticism against the campaign, saying drug suspects slain in police operations had resisted arrest. Still, the Philippine National Police has promised to continue cleansing its ranks amid reports of police abuse.
Human rights groups and various reports peg the number of drug-related deaths to as high as 10,000, but the government heavily disputes this number, saying only a fraction of this was due to legitimate police operations.
Government said a total of 3,151 drug personalities have been killed in anti-drug operations from July 1, 2016 to June 13, 2017.
Official data from the Philippine National Police pegged the total number of homicide cases at 9,432 from July 2016 to March 2017.
Of this number, 1,847 deaths were said to be drug-related, while 1,894 were not. The remaining 5,691 cases, approximately 60 percent of the total figure, were still under investigation.
Lapeña said the government is taking a holistic approaching in dealing with the drug menace, noting that rehabilitation and reintegration programs have been set up for drug addicts.
He said the government is working with barangay officials to ensure that all communities are rid of the drug trade.
Lapeña said 20,126 out of the country’s 42,036 barangays nationwide are affected by the illegal drug trade. So far, he said, the government has cleared 3,677 of the affected barangays.
“What we wanted to be able to accomplish is this figure will be translated into something that our people will feel, especially [in] the grassroots,” Lapeña said.
“In the grassroots, we have shifted our strategy to the barangay drug-clearing program because this is where the drug problem thrives," he said.
Meanwhile, the PDEA chief said the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is set to join government efforts in fighting the drug menace.
“There was an offer by the MILF to help in the campaign against illegal drugs in those areas that are affected by the conflict with the MILF. And you know, the law enforcer cannot just enter into those areas that are… where they have their presence,” Lapeña said.
“We have to involve them para makasama sa kampanya against illegal drugs in those areas that are considered conflicted areas.”
The government and the MILF recently reached a milestone in the peace process after the Bangsamoro Transition Commission finished its draft of a proposed measure that would enact the 2014 peace pact between the two sides.