MANILA, Philippines — As with most criticisms, Police Gen. Guillermo Eleazar, chief of the Philippine National Police, brushed off claims in a recent study that the powers given to the PNP in the conduct of its “drug war” has exposed weaknesses within the organization.
“I think the claim that the war on drugs resulted in an increase in the number of abusive cops is baseless and an unfair assumption because the PNP has never tolerated rogues in its ranks. The PNP has its own mechanisms for corrupt cops,” he said in a statement sent to reporters.
After murder of Laguna teenager, PNP chief says police lapses are ‘promptly addressed’
This comes after a working paper by the Ateneo School of Government said that the Duterte administration largely failed to make good on its promises on ending crime, corruption, and the illegal drug trade in the Philippines.
The same promises buoyed the election campaign of President Rodrigo Duterte, who promised to fulfill them within three to six months. He asked for an extension soon after, saying he had underestimated the extent of the problems.
“The considerable powers granted to police officers in conducting the government’s anti-drug campaign also exposed weaknesses in the PNP, as issues of abuse and corruption prompted more responsible leaders in the PNP to call for deeper reforms in the organization and a recalibration of the anti-drugs campaign,” the paper reads.
‘Privileges given to cops’
: The paper, published Monday night
and entitled “National Security, Anti-Corruption, and Anti-Crime Policies in the Duterte Administration,” said the administration had grown “overly reliant on the capacity of police and security personnel the president could trust.”
Former Education Secretary Edilberto de Jesus, who penned the report, said that Duterte’s failure in addressing these issues “stemmed from approaching complex issues as mainly law enforcement problems” that he attempted to solve by courting “the favor of the military and police.”
“This was consistent with the image he wished to project as a law-and-order president committed to the priority objective of fighting insurgency and criminality,” De Jesus said, pointing to the breadth of personnel in Duterte’s government who were still serving or retired from security forces.
“It followed from his assumption that he could rely on those with military training to implement his orders without question. Finally, he believed that he needed soldiers to enable him to rule the country.”
Eleazar on Tuesday denied police had any special powers and said that the campaign against illegal narcotics was part of the agency’s mandate.
He added that “special focus” was afforded to the campaign against illegal drugs “based on the experience that most crimes, particularly the heinous kind, are rooted in illegal drugs.” He did not provide any basis to back up this claim.
“This is a whole-of-nation approach that seeks to not only address illegal drugs as a peace and order problem but also as a health and social concern,” the general claimed.
‘Winning the drug war?’
: The PNP chief cited government data from the Real Numbers PH campaign saying that the drug war has resulted in the arrest of 293,841 drug suspects, including 12,356 high-value targets, in 203,715 anti-illegal drug operations nationwide.
He added that a total of P59.93-billion worth of narcotics, including P49.31-billion worth of shabu, were confiscated in the different operations and 22,093 barangays have been declared drug-cleared—all supposed “gains” that government officials continue to harp on in arguing that the administration is “winning” the drug war.
“The data will refute this allegation. I believe that we no longer need to count the anti-drug operations that have resulted in the seizure of large quantities of shabu and the late high-value targets, as well as the now drug-free barangays,” Eleazar said.
Figures from Real Numbers PH—which collates data from the PNP, Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, and Dangerous Drugs Board—also note that 6,089 suspects have died in official operations since July 2016, though Eleazar left this number out in his statement.
Previous PNP chiefs said the number was around 8,000 deaths, but this was later lowered to the current figure. But rights groups say the actual death toll may be as high as 30,000 as of this post.
However, in 2020, crystal methamphetamines or shabu were still found to be behind the most arrest and treatment admissions in the Philippines, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime found in a report.
Citing figures also from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency and the Dangerous Drugs Board, the UNODC said that shabu “remains the main drug of concern in the Philippines” with just a year left under the Duterte administration.
According to Real Numbers PH, 13,649 barangays remain classified as “yet to be cleared” of illegal drugs.
“The president overestimated, exaggerated, hyped up, the scale and gravity of the problem. Strategies that could be effective to control drugs within a city were difficult to implement on a national basis,” De Jesus said.
READ: With a year left in Duterte’s term, UNODC says shabu still a major problem in the Philippines
Allergic to accountability?: Government and national police officials typically chafe at criticisms over the Duterte administration’s flagship “war on drugs”.
Earlier, global investigating panel Investigate PH in a second report that will be sent to the 47th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council said that police officers block attempts at transparency and accountability.
“Police routinely cover up the circumstances of killings in anti-drug operations, intimidate families and potential witnesses, and obstruct review of most killings,” it said.
Witness interviews by the group found that the friends and families of victims are intimidated and even threatened to keep quiet. Meanwhile, police leadership points to the lack of formal complaints as evidence that operations are done by the book.
READ: PNP: No cover-up in ‘drug war’; more than 5K cops dismissed for ‘abuse’
Eleazar also denied this, pointing to the 18,000 dismissals of police officers caught erring in the line of duty.
“In enforcing the war on drugs, the PNP takes into high consideration accountability and adherence to human rights-based policing,” he said.
As it claims to stand for accountability, the PNP continues to drag its feet in its supposed cooperation with investigations. Of the over 6,000 drug war deaths confirmed by police data, only 61 records have been surrendered to the Department of Justice for review.
“Allowing security officials, suspected of malfeasance, to retain government authority was more dangerous when they also had legitimate access to lethal weapons,” De Jesus said.
“The greater the dependence of leaders on law enforcement, the more critical the age-old question they must always ask: who will guard the guards?”
READ: Abuse in ‘drug war’ routinely covered up, advocates say