MANILA – Malacañang on Thursday welcomed the proposal of Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III to turn the mega drug rehabilitation facility in Nueva Ecija into a drug enforcement training center as it noted that the structure was not envisioned to be permanent.
Sotto, a former Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) chair, made the proposal as government struggled to fill the 10,000-bed capacity rehabilitation center, which was built through the help of Chinese tycoon Huang Rulun amid the administration's intensified anti-drug campaign.
The facility inside Fort Magsaysay, a military reservation, was initially planned to house drug addicts as tens of thousands surrendered under the government crackdown.
“[From] the beginning, we, particularly our health officials, do not envision this to be a permanent structure,” Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in a statement.
“Our long-term vision is once the drug problem has been resolved, this can be turned over to the military who owns the land or other agencies of government that can utilize, manage and optimize the facility.”
The massive rehabilitation facility was recently put on the spotlight when just resigned DDB chief Dionisio Santiago said the facility was “impractical” and a “mistake”.
Santiago’s comments prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to seek his resignation.
On Wednesday, Duterte said he was "offended" by Santiago's comments in a Nov. 1 interview on ANC's Headstart.
In response to Santiago's comments, Malacañang said the next day that no government fund was wasted on the drug rehabilitation facility as its construction was fully shouldered by private donors.
The President recently scaled back the anti-drug campaign, directing the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency to take the lead. This prompted the Philippine National Police to terminate its controversial house-to-house anti-drug operation "Oplan Tokhang" (knock and plead).
This as police drew criticism over alleged abuses in anti-drug raids, particularly the spate of drug-related killings. Defending the campaign, the administration has said it neither condones police abuses nor sanctions summary killings.
It said an estimated 3,800 drug suspects, not 13,000 per the count of human rights groups, were killed in legitimate police operations after allegedly putting up violent resistance.