President Rodrigo Duterte this week issued a memorandum redeploying the Philippine National Police (PNP) back into the drugs war, the centerpiece program of his administration. This was two months after he cut the PNP from the campaign when his popularity rating dipped significantly over the killings, and assigned instead the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) to deal with the problem.
Typical of the President’s language, he spoke about the recommitment of the PNP while blasting at critics of his administration over the issue of human rights. He said doesn’t care about the criticisms about his campaign and that he needed another one year to solve the country’s drug problem.
“I hope to finish the problem, give me just another year. Babalik ang pulis,” he said.
Lost in the context of this pronouncement was why he withdrew the PNP from his core program in the first place – whether it was an admission that the PNP was remiss or ineffective, whether it was an acknowledgment that the PDEA was in the first place supposed to take the lead, or whether he simply wanted to PNP to regain its bearings after a series of clear fiasco such as the Kian delos Santos killing and the murder of Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa.
Also unanswered was why, when he delegated the drugs campaign to PDEA, did he issue a specific order to the PNP not to meddle in the fight against drugs when he himself keeps saying this was a government priority?
This week’s memorandum order states that even with the police back into the drugs battlefield, they will be taking orders from PDEA. Ironically, the context of the order seems to be that the President wanted to see Oplan Tokhang Reloaded, a PNP battleplan, revived. This places tPDEA in a bid over how effectively it can exercise authority over the manner of drugs operations different from how the PNP does it.
In the two months that the PDEA was at the helm of the program, a hiatus of some sort that almost equated from the government distancing itself from the war on drugs, the agency was able to post significant accomplishments without attracting human rights criticisms. In this light, it isn’t clear if the basis for Malacanang’s new order was that it is not pleased over the way PDEA is performing and they needed the PNP back.
The absence of a clear policy context to the government’s fight against drugs had even the Supreme Court justices asking basic questions such as why are we not aiming to cut the source but are focusing i on the small time pushers and users, a campaign that has led to an estimated 12,000 killed, according to Human Rights Watch.
Judging from the posturing of Malacanang, the transparent answer to any of these questions are not forthcoming.