Saturday , June 23, 2018

Malilong: Do not exclude the police, please

NOW that the president has designated the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) as the sole agency in charge of the war on drugs, does that mean that the police, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and all other law enforcement agencies are no longer allowed to do anything that would have helped win that war other than to fold their arms?

For example, if the Bureau of Customs again stumbles on a huge shipment of shabu passing through their express lane, should they allow the contraband to leave the customs zone while waiting for the PDEA arrive?

If a policeman witnesses a drug deal occurring, should he just let the parties be because he is barred by President Duterte’s memorandum from intervening?

This is a misconception that should be addressed. Duterte did not mean to tie the hands of lawmen or to make them inutile in the fight against drugs. Once a lawman, always a lawman. If a crime is being or has been committed in his presence, he should arrest the perpetrator, regardless of the nature of the offense. In fact, even civilians can and should do that.

What the president actually did was to prohibit the police from launching their own operations against the narcotics trade. In other words, they have been to be reactive instead of proactive. The decision has a huge impact on the drugs war and it is unfortunate that it has come to that.

The president’s decision is obviously related to the growing complaints of abuses allegedly committed by policemen while waging the narcotics war. That many suspects had died in the hands of policemen is undeniable. Some of the victims were young and in a number of cases, the signs that they were summarily executed were evident.

There are rogue cops, that is pretty obvious, too but they’re an insignificant minority. They probably aren’t even naturally bad but simply misguided, something that the president himself may be partly responsible for because of certain statements that he made in the past that seemed to encourage the police not to take any prisoners.

But as the Cebu City experience under Senior Supt. Joel Doria has shown, it is possible to run after the drug merchants just as effectively without having to kill them. The secret is in giving clear directions to the men on the field to avoid any misconception on the real nature of their job.

If the president believes that the plunge in his satisfaction ratings is caused by allegations of extrajudicial killings, he is not far off the mark. But his taking the police out of the anti-drug operations is an overreaction that could adversely affect the achievement of a drugs-free Philippines that he envisioned to be his legacy to the nation.

The drugs problem is a very serious one and combatting it requires that all hands be on board. Don’t exclude the police, Mr. President. Just reorient them.