MANILA - Batanes has been declared the country's first drug-free province amid the administration's continuing campaign against illegal drugs, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) said Wednesday.
The agency also identified several barangays in the provinces of Sarangani and Maguindanao to be clear of drugs following an assessment.
Batanes, the country's northernmost province of the Philippines, gained 'drug-cleared' status after it complied with parameters set by the Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB), PDEA Director General Isidro Lapeña said in a statement.
A total of 23 confessed drug users and pushers surrendered in Batanes after President Duterte initiated his crackdown in July 2016. They all completed the community-based rehabilitation program on March 15 this year, PDEA said.
All of Batanes' six municipalities and 29 barangays were declared drug-cleared by its chiefs of police and affirmed by the respective town mayors and chairs of the Municipal Anti-Drug Abuse Councils (MADACs) on Dec. 29 last year.
Following months of validation by the Philippine National Police and the Department of Interior and Local Government, the province was declared drug-free on June 2.
“After a thorough and rigid scrutiny of the requirements, and verification and validation processes done by the Oversight Committee on Barangay Drug Clearing Operations... the province of Batanes was declared drug-free,” Lapeña said.
Batanes Governor Marilou Cayco and Senior Supt. Agustin Tamangen, Batanes Provincial Police Director, received the certification during simple rights at the provincial capitol.
"We will make Batanes as a template for all provinces to emulate. Now that the province is free from illegal drug activities, the work does not end here. We need to continuously conduct drug-demand reduction activities in the province, leaving no room for illegal drugs to prevail again," Lapeña said.
Meanwhile, all 31 barangays in the town of Glan in Sarangani were declared clear of illegal drugs, the PDEA said.
Ten more barangays in Maguindanao were also declared drug-free.
Among them are barangays Neketan, Dulangan, Bagoenged, Sapalan, Bitu and Tanuel, in the town of Datu Odin Sinsuat; Talisawa in the town of Abdullah Sanki; Borongotan, municipality of Upi; Malamiton, municipality of Ampatuano; and Idtig in Gen. Salipada K. Pendatun town.
Lapeña said drug-cleared barangays have the responsibility to "maintain the status."
Police data has shown that President Rodrigo Duterte's fierce anti-narcotics drive has resulted in a 26.45 percent drop in the estimated total drug market and a 28.57 percent decline in index crimes.