Philippines seeks tougher ASEAN vs illegal drugs: source

Christian V. Esguerra, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 19 2017 11:58 AM | Updated as of Feb 19 2017 06:34 PM

Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) operatives stand on guard near confiscated illegal drugs before destroying them through thermal decomposition in Trece Martires, Cavite Thursday. Romeo Ranoco, Reuters

BORACAY ISLAND, Aklan - The Philippines will push for a stronger region-wide response against illegal drugs, a top priority of President Rodrigo Duterte whose drug war is blamed for the killing of thousands of drug suspects in the country.

Ministers from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will converge on this island resort starting Monday to tackle agenda items, including a collective action against the threat of ISIS terrorists in the region.

They also hope to finish a code of conduct framework on the South China Sea within the year, amid Beijing's reclamation and construction of military facilities in disputed areas.

But while the Philippines will seek greater cooperation against drug trafficking, this year's ASEAN host is not expected to impose its heavy-handed approach on its peers.

Nor will the Philippines want its neighbors to interfere in its own war on drugs, said a diplomat familiar with the discussions.

"Cooperation but non-interference," he told ABS-CBN News.

More than 7,000 drug-related killings have been reported in Duterte's first seven months in office, alarming traditional ally the United States and international human rights groups.

At the regional summit in Laos last year, Duterte said drug trafficking "has emerged as a pressing problem for our countries, undermining social cohesion and the rule of law and socioeconomic program of a country."

Duterte sought "stronger resolve and action to combat transnational crime" within the regional bloc.

Mechanisms to combat illegal drugs within the region go beyond law enforcement, which critics say has been the focus of Duterte's bloody campaign.

They include "preventive drug education, treatment and rehabilitation."