by Ferdinand Pasion, Phil-BRICS Director

The surprise offer of President Rodrigo R. Duterte to Vice-President Leonora Robredo to sit in the government’s anti-drugs war command after her months of lambasting the administration’s campaign perplexed the public, experts and ordinary folks, no end.  

                Few, if any, saw the need for the offer. The anti-drugs war of the administration was going very well and unprecedented positive succeses were being gained. The bottom line of the campaign is the public’s endorsement of its success such as seen in the public opinions surveys such as the SWS (which is no fan of Duterte) reporting 82% public approval of the President’s anti-drugs war.

                The improvement in the abatement of illegal drugs proliferation and in the level of infection of the tens of thousands of grassroots communities has been palpable. Evidence of the improvement is reflected in the numerous reports of the authorities, the Philippine National Police and other branches of government.

                While detractors, foreign and domestic, legitimate critics as well as habitual and/or mal-intentioned political propagandists, disproportionately zero in and distort casualty lists relating to police anti-drug operations, the positive statistics were piling up over the three years.

                From July 2016 to February 2019, 123, 441 anti-drug operations were conducted and 176, 021 were arrested with 5,281 casualties of those involved in the drug trade resisting authorities.  295 drug dens and laboratories were dismantled, 2,098 children rescued and 29.29 billion Philippine pesos (US$579 million) worth of drugs and laboratory equipment seized.

                It has not been easy on our police forces, 87 police officers were killed and 227 wounded in the line of duty in the course of all the operations. These are very, very seldom reported by the Western and local media with the bad intention of painting the most horrid picture of the government’s anti-illegal drugs campaign.

                The critics invariably use casualty figures ranging from 24,000 and all the way to 60,000 casualties relating to the anti-drug operations. In most cases they maliciously lump all murder cases into one mislabeled category, anti-drug related killings. That’s absolute nonsense. Only 2,668 DUIs (Deaths Under Investigation) were found to be drug-related.

                Rehabilitation is one of the priorities of the Duterte administration and more than 1.2 million drug users and pushers surrendered from 2016 to early 2017 of which 316,494 submitted their selves to programs and graduated from recovery and wellness programs. In this area China has been of great assistance as China has donated several drug rehabilitation centers.

                China through private donors or its government has provided several multi-million rehab centers to the Philippines: a 10,000-bed mega drug reatment and rehab center in Fort Magsaysay, Nueva Ecija; one P 500-million facility in Bukidnon; another in Saranggani costing P 350-million facility called the Socsargen Drug Abuse Treatment and Rehab Center turned over in December 2018.

                The Filipino-Chinese have also been doing their part, in 2017 the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry Inc. (FFCCII) donated a drug rehab center to Ormoc City in the Visayas. However, the Chinese government also has a pledge to donate one for the Visayas.

                The most significant of China’s assistance has come by way of the collaborative effort of the Philippine government anti-smuggling and anti-drugs agencies’ coordination with China’s authorities. The classic achievement of this collaboration is the May 2017 600-kg. drug bust on the strength of a tip from Xiamen, China, customs officials. The drug bust was worth P 6.4-billion.

                Despite the success the detractors twisted the news reports to make it appear as a negative development against the administration.

                Cooperation with China has been high on President Duterte’s priorities and in his priority anti-illegal drugs campaign China has indeed been a boon. The Department of Foreign Affairs in a 2017 document quote President Duterte saying that “China is the only country to come out freely and issue a firm statement that they are supporting the fight against drugs in my country.”

                Now, Vice-President Robredo wants to bring in the U.S. drugs authorities to help. We look at this with caution as the U.S. in the past three years have invariably shown hostility to President Duterte and done some harm to his efforts in the anti-drugs war by casting severe criticisms and obstructing it using “human rights” issues to block efforts to purchase arms for various government purposes including its use in anti-drugs operations.

                Having stated that concern we can also say that a sincere effort by the U.S. can indeed be helpful. A recent report of U.S. cooperation with China in cracking down on Fentanyl trafficking into the U.S. by nefarious Chinese gangs has been very encouraging. In a first, U.S. and Chinese cooperation succeeded in breaking a Fentanyl gang and putting nine traffickers in China. This should put President Trump’s hyped fears at ease.

                But the U.S. in the anti-illegal drugs war of many countries present a dilemma, as it has been shown in the past that the CIA has been doing underground what the U.S. government has been fighting above ground. In 2017 Juan Pablo Escobar Hanao, son of the notorious drug boss of the Medellin Cartel Pablo Escobar revealed that his father “worked for the CIA selling cocaine”.

                In the 80’s the San Jose Mercury News publication exposed the CIA drugs trafficking to raise funds for its anti-Sandinista guerillas called Contras: “For the better part of a decade, a San Francisco Bay Area drug ring sold tons of cocaine to the Crips and Bloods street gangs of Los Angeles and funneled millions in drug profits to a Latin American guerrilla army run by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CIA_involvement_in_Contra_cocaine_trafficking )

                So the Philippines must be careful dealing with the U.S. on such anti-illegal drugs collaboration. More often than not, Filipinos are suspicious of China in relation to illegals drugs reaching the Philippines because of the number of Chinese nationals apprehended in the country involved in the illicit business, but they are seriously mistaken and most are simply misled by the anti-China propagandists in mainstream and social media.

                                Last November 14, 2019 PDEA (Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency) Director Aaron Aquino revealed that the vast majority of illegal drugs coming into the Philippines are coming out of the Golden Triangle along the border of Laos, Myanmar and Thailand. He said these drugs are regularly packed in Chinese tea bags to make it appear that they come from China. Dir. Aquino added that the strict laws of China against illegal drugs the syndicates are now forced to outsource production.

                Other reports identify Hong Kong as a source of illegal drugs coming to the Philippines. The People’s Republic of China has a hands off policy in Hong Kong as we can see in the current turmoil there. China cannot be blamed for what comes out of Hong Kong, if true at all. We see in the extradition controversy there how criminal elements fear Mainland authorities’ reach and very likely have also been funding the violent “masked black shirt” juveniles showing chaos in the guise of “pro-democracy” actions.

                In the final analysis, if care is taken to insulate the anti-drugs war of the Philippine government from geopolitics and domestic politics, coordinating with all major anti-drugs countries will be helpful. Vice-President Robredo must ensure that the trust invested in her by President Duterte is not abused. She must ensure that the U.S. must not use their access now to the government anti-drugs campaign as an opportunity for mischief or even subterfuge.