“Tiangge” or wet market, that was how anyone who had been to the coastal barangay of Tanke, Talisay would describe the bravado with which illegal drugs were sold in that corner of the city before 2016.

The village seemed like a parallel universe with residents, local officials and the police reduced to inferior terms in the presence and dominance of drug lords. No one dared to rock the boat.

In 2020, in a speech during a Sinulog affair, President Rodrigo Duterte singled out Talisay City for its drug situation, and Barangay Tanke apparently was at the core of that displeasure. At that time, authorities had already made strides in the campaign, had laid down the groundworks with a series of surgical operations apprehending identified drug lords. In fact, the city already had its long-running rehabilitation and after-care program under its City Health Office in full swing.

At the time of the President’s speech, the city’s police chief Col. Gerard Ace Pelare was just about to get a feel of the city, but he brought with him a string of career accolades for excellent relations with the communities he had served in past assignments.

Fastforward to 2021. Exactly today, April 30, 2021, it appears that the war had been won in Tanke for the most part. The nefarious drug tiangges have been wiped out and the trickle of recent apprehensions have not turned out high-value targets, apparently good signs by any measure.

How in the world did they do it? Well, just some good blend of zealous officials and a good dose of well thought out ideas. Just the modest and humane ways of looking at the problem of illegal drugs not solely as a law enforcement concern. At the center of it, though, is how the city’s police, under Pelare’s leadership had taken a rather different path—community relations.

Today, the PNP leadership will be in Tanke, Talisay to witness the oath-taking of around 80 men and women who call themselves “Tanke Defenders.” These troopers are volunteers from three sitios, an initial force as the city police aim to tap more volunteers in all the sitios.

“We are trying to make the world of the evil people smaller and smaller every day by befriending those people surrounding them. Sa una, kauban ra sila tanan hangtud niabot ang time nga mahadlok na sila. They don’t trust their neighbors anymore because these neighbors will be the ones to give information to the police,” said Pelare in an interview.

“Win the crowd and you win the war,” Pelare loosely quoted the movie “Gladiator.”

In Sitio Rattan, for instance, around 40 men from a fisherfolk group volunteered as Rattan Defenders, roving the community twice a day, in between times when they’re out in the sea.

Had it not been for the pandemic, part of the program is a regular interaction with the children of arrested individuals with drug cases. Children who have been brought forth to a world with families involved in illegal drugs wouldn’t have a way to recognize the wrong in it. Pelare thought this needed to be fixed, and thus he pushed for a program to educate these children.

Mayor Gerald “Samsam” Gullas thinks the same way, and had drawn out an overarching program called “Oplan Limpyo Talisay,” an anti-illegal drug campaign that included law enforcement, rehabilitation and after-care and community relations.

“We are fighting a winless war, if dakop, dakop, dakop na lang sige (we solely just do arrests),” the mayor said.

Today, the City Government will also turn over a modest public toilet facility in Sitio Magay, a second of its kind after Sitio Rattan’s, which was built through the city police’s initiative. These gestures are winning the community and apparently beat the erstwhile dominance of drug lords, most of which now languish in prison.