A cru­cial shift

Cebu Daily News - - OPINION -

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.

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