A crucial shift
Even before President Rodrigo Duterte lambasted the European Union over their criticism on his war against illegal drugs and told their ambassadors point-blank “to get out of my country,” he issued an October 10 order directing the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) to take the lead in the anti-drug campaign.
Whether that came as a result of the Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey showing the Filipino people want drug suspects alive than dead or due to the death of underage drug suspects like Kian delos Santos, the order does indicate a shift in the gargantuan war against drugs that had claimed thousands of lives and made a spectacle out of the country in front of the international community.
That change — however small is welcome — had been felt across the country particularly in Cebu where local officials are being challenged by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in their other initiatives against illegal drug activities and suspects.
Last Wednesday’s dialogue between the CHR and Cebu City barangay officials at least was a positive step coming as it did when the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) initiated that tip box program which, as of latest update, may be scrapped.
Anyway, the Duterte administration’s decision to drop its Oplan Tokhang program and allow the PDEA to spearhead the campaign reiterated anew the irony in which the President first belittled the agency that he accused of being inutile in the war on drugs and which he threatened to abolish a year ago.
Now that the PDEA has been given the lead, will the CHR — which was also threatened with abolition when Congress dangled a P1,000 budget on it — also assume a high-profile role afterwards?
It’s too early to tell especially with Duterte still smarting from global criticism on his war on drugs yet still retaining some measure of popularity. But the surveys reflecting public sentiment on his campaign will certainly influence how his administration would conduct it, not the rights groups nor even the global community.
Yet it is in those areas outside Manila, particularly in the Visayas where sentiment on the war against illegal drugs is changing quite a bit, where the antidrug war will be influenced by stakeholders particularly civil rights groups who are doing their best to dialogue with law enforcement agencies and local officials in showing how to conduct the campaign right.
In Cebu City, the dialogue can hopefully lead to a more responsible, more responsive campaign that will result in more arrests, more cases lodged in court and more of these drug suspects behind bars.
From there, vigilance remains critical as jailed dealers and users still conduct their trade with the outside world.
But it can be done, and as shown by some local governments like Bogo City, people can still wage war against illegal drug dealers without having to resort to a bloodbath.