MANILA - The government is now shifting focus to dismantling the “higher echelons” of the drug trade, Malacañang said Thursday.
Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said this was why President Rodrigo Duterte decided to make the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) the lead agency in the administration's fierce anti-narcotics campaign.
Abella explained that the PDEA was tasked to lead the drug war because “street distribution networks” have been “degraded” through earlier community-level operations.
“So ang nangyari po, na-degrade ‘yung street distribution networks nung mga drug lords, so we now target higher echelons of the syndicates as well as their protectors in government,” Abella said in a news conference in Malacañang.
“PDEA will now bring policy focus, expert performance standards, high-level coordination of oversight, and centralized intelligence collection to the war on drugs.”
Abella said the PDEA will also lead the establishment of a broad anti-drug coalition with other government agencies, local government units, and the private sector. This coalition shall “push prevention and rehabilitation initiatives,” he said.
Duterte signed earlier this week a memorandum mandating the PDEA to take the lead in the anti-drug campaign, putting the Philippine National Police in the back seat just as it faced allegations of abuse in the drug war.
Clarifying PDEA's mandate aims “to bring order” to the campaign and “[pinpoint] precise accountability,” Duterte's memorandum read.
On Thursday, Philippine National Police chief Director General Ronald Dela Rosa announced the termination of Oplan Tokhang, the police force's house-to-house "knock and plead" program targeting drug suspects.
Under Duterte's order, the PDEA shall take charge of investigating drug-related cases, per provisions of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.
The government has many times defended Duterte’s war on drugs, which has claimed the lives of about 3,800 people in legitimate police operations, according to police statistics. Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano recently said all those slain were drug peddlers.
Human rights groups, however, estimate that the death toll in the war on drugs could be as high as 13,000, a figure dismissed by the government as overblown.
The PNP also recently said there were no cases of extrajudicial killings in the country.