One day after President Rodrigo Duterte announced his unrelenting war on drugs would become “harsher” in the coming days,” Malacañang on Thursday bared the United States had vowed to support the government’s controversial crackdown against illegal drugs.
According to Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo, US Ambassador to the Philippine Sung Kim extended Washington’s support during a courtesy call on the President in Malacañang on Wednesday evening.
Panelo said the meeting gave the President a chance to back his controversial drug war before the US official.
“The conversation centered on the President’s narrative telling them how the drug war affected him and this country, that he had to declare war on drugs. And he had to do it because he wants to protect and preserve this nation,” Panelo said in a Palace press briefing.
As recalled by Panelo, Duterte told Kim that roughly three-million Filipinos had been enslaved by the illegal drug industry, which brought many crimes and created dysfunctional families.
“The President also told them that he will not stop until the end of his term to end this illegal traffic of prohibited drugs,” he said.
“In response, the US Ambassador said the US government supported the fight against drugs,” Panelo added.
In a related development:
• The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency on Thursday launched an advocacy program aimed at promoting a drug-free workplace inside hotels, bars, restaurants, condominiums, subdivisions, and warehouses.
Director General Aaron Aquino said the program shall engage the management of private establishments, including security agencies, through the implementation of their own drug-free workplace program, educate employees on the ill-effects of dangerous drugs, and enforce a random drug test for all their officers and employees.
He said the project was also designed to educate hotels, bars, restaurants, condominiums, subdivisions and warehouses’ owners to identify potential drug laboratories, drug dens and drug warehouses.
Quezon City was chosen as the pilot site, he said, adding the program would be replicated in all cities and municipalities of the National Capital Region, and even in the provinces.
Panelo said it was the President who raised the issue about the drug war during the one-and-a-half hour meeting with the US-Philippine Society.
“That’s how he started it. Telling the group about it. Perhaps, that is the hottest issue,” he said. “It’s the President who started talking. In fact, he was talking for more than half an hour.”
Aside from the drug war, the President also talked about the return of the historic Balangiga bells and the corruption in the government.
“Balangiga... He also said that this country will not go forward unless we can stop the drug war and corruption. And not even succeeding presidents will succeed in improving the situation of this country unless we stop these twin evils,” Panelo said.
“He [Duterte] then thanked him for that opportunity and the US-Philippine Society contributed much to the return of the Balangiga Bells. And the President said the relationship between the US and the Philippines remains strong,” he added.
In a chance interview on Wednesday, the President said the government would wage a “harsher” war on drugs in the following days, stressing that he would not allow the country to become a failed state.
“I am declaring war. I am not declaring a punitive police action. It cannot help and it would not help. So, early on I decided. I think I’d be more, well I said, harsher in the days to come,” he said.
“I will not allow my country to be destroyed by drugs. I will not allow my country to end up a failed state because of drugs. And I am declaring war and I said I will kill anybody who stands in the way,” he added.
The President also revealed that the two foreign drug syndicates, the Sinaloa and Medellin cartels, were currently operating in the country.
Recently, packages of cocaine have been found in the country’s shores.
Panelo then said it was difficult for the police forces to seize drugs on a wide scale because of the country’s archipelagic characteristic.
Meanwhile, asked to elaborate Duterte’s plan of a harsher drug war, Panelo said it was meant for the Philippine National Police to be “more active in the fight against illegal drugs.”
“In other words, the President is relentless in his campaign and he’s focused on it. He has in fact instructed the police forces to do everything in their power and in accordance with law to dismantle the entire drug apparatus in the Philippines,” he said.
For the Palace official, police forces “should engage more on intelligence work” to arrest drug traffickers.
“You cannot arrest these people unless you have a basis, right? We need more intelligence work,” he said.
“The approach of the President is twin: The arrest of drug traffickers as well as the rehabilitation of the drug addicts,” he added.
According to Panelo, the President’s chief legal counsel, even though the President could resort to implementing martial law in the country to curb the illegal drugs, Duterte would still not use it.
“If there is rebellion, and there is imminence [of that], and the public safety requires – then the President can do that. But according to him, he will not, he will not because he has still many measures that he can do to quell the present threat on the drug industry,” he said, emphasizing that only police actions had been used in the drug war.
Asked if the President would resort to martial law for the total shutdown of illegal drugs, Panelo said: “I don’t think so, because he doesn’t have to. We are containing it, given the official figures.”
Aquino said once the operation was in full swing, all local government units nationwide shall be urged to observe their local ordinances requiring all business establishments to implement a safe and drug-free environment in the workplace, pursuant to the Department of Labor and Employment Order No. 53-03 or the guidelines for the implementation of a drug-free workplace policies and programs for the private sector.
“One of the priorities of the program is to reintroduce and compel business owners to conform with the requirements of Dangerous Drugs Board Regulation 8 Series of 2003 which mandates all private establishments employing 10 or more workers to formulate and implement a drug-free workplace program, including mandatory drafting and adoption of company policies against illegal drug use,” Aquino said.
He called on lessors of warehouses, condominiums and houses to regularly inspect their properties to prevent their properties from being used as drug laboratories and warehouses.
Several anti-drug operations revealed that private establishments were used as choice venues to manufacture, deliver, sell and consume illegal drugs.
“PDEA has seen clandestine drug laboratories put up inside subdivisions and condominiums. The most recent was the dismantled shabu laboratory in Oceanaire Luxurious Residences in Pasay City last September 25, 2018. Organized parties spiked with ecstasy and other recreational drugs take place inside these establishments because detection risk is less,” Aquino said.
He said illegal drug transactions were actually happening inside hotel rooms, restaurants and bars because illegal drugs could be exchanged discreetly.
Some drug personalities were even billeted inside residential condominiums and apartelles, and used the place as drug dens where illegal drugs can be bought and used, he added.