EDITORIAL: Curbing drug supply minus the killing

WAGING the war against illegal drug can be bloodless like what the operatives of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) in Camarines Sur has shown to us in two separate anti-drug operations, four days apart, on November 4 and 8. The anti-drug operations were not only noteworthy because the confiscated drugs weighing two kilos were worth P10M to P12M but because the PDEA agents, unlike their police counterpart, spared the lives of the suspected drug dealers. Had the recent anti-drug operations in Camarines Sur involved the Philippine National Police (PNP), who knows where the suspects would be now, given the pattern where operations by police operatives resulted in the deaths of suspected drug users and pushers, even while the tiny volume of drugs confiscated would hardly tilt the balance of a regular weighing scale. It will be recalled that on Sept. 22 last year, four suspected drug users were mowed down by the police in Naga City at Sitio Matiway in Barangay San Felipe. One of the fatalities was Gualberto Manlangit Jr., the son of prominent lawyer Gualberto Sr. who died a year earlier, and another one, a balikbayan named Michael Alexander Bofete Imperial who had just arrived on vacation from Australia. Two other suspects were found lifeless inside the house with gunshot wounds. Like the other anti-drug operations conducted by the police, the official statement of the PNP was the oft-repeated line that the suspects fought off (“nanlaban”) with the arresting law enforcement officers. Despite the police version of a gun battle, however, suggesting commotion before the suspects died, the bottles of liquor and glasses on the table where the suspects were supposedly drinking remained undisturbed even after the violent incident. What the police had found were a couple of sachets of suspected shabu which cost the lives of four young men. Compared to the Oplan Double Barrel and Oplan Double Reloaded of the PNP that resulted in the deaths of thousands of suspected drug users and pushers, what the PDEA agents in Camarines Sur teach us is that the battle against illegal drugs can be won without killing the suspects and yet yield significant result. It also shows that, indeed, illegal drug suspects would think twice before fighting off the better armed arresting officers and thus there is rarer chance of “nanglaban.” It is worthwhile to note that the successful operation by PDEA Camarines Sur agents (where the suspects were kept alive after the arrest) somehow connects to the suppliers of shabu as in the case of the follow up operation that hooked the higher level of distribution channel to the two Nigerian nationals, who are suspected members of a drug cartel controlled by Nigerian syndicate. As it turned out, the four Filipino drug couriers arrested earlier in Naga City (after the drug’s transport from Manila) by the PDEA agents led to the true source of the seized illegal drugs. It was fortunate for the suspects that they were not liquidated by the arresting PDEA officers after the “big haul of one kilo of shabu.” Without witnesses but themselves, it could have been easy for the PDEA agents to plant firearms beside their dead bodies had they were summarily executed then and there. And with the President seemingly condoning extra-judicial killings related to anti-drug war, the PDEA agents could have even earned praise i f they killed the suspect using the “nanglaban” line of reasoning. President Duterte has transferred stewardship of the campaign against the illegal drugs to PDEA nationwide after a survey showed the people did not believe those killed were “nanglaban” and the trust rating of the PNP nosedived. But Duterte had warned that if PDEA fall short of their task, the PNP can always once again take over. Like what Mr. Duterte has already admitted, the PDEA will not succeed in eradicating the drug problem. Without clear guidepost to what a successful anti-drug campaign sans eradicating it means, PDEA will surely fail in the eyes of Mr. Duterte. With only 1,898 PDEA personnel spread nationwide compared to 129,000 policemen deployed in all municipalities, it will not be long that the war against drugs will again be handed to the PNP. Then, more bloodied bodies of suspected drug users and pushers will again hog the headlines. With the PDEA in the frontline of the anti-drug campaign, did we not notice that deaths of suspected drug users and pushers have now become scarce as the daily newscasts show, while seizures of the contraband drugs continue without the dreaded PNP personnel around?