Philippines' anti-drug chief seeks new ways of ending scourge

Philippine Vice-President Leni Robredo says the country's brutal war on drugs has failed to curtail a staggering rise in addiction. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
Philippine Vice-President Leni Robredo says the country's brutal war on drugs has failed to curtail a staggering rise in addiction. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

MANILA • The opposition leader put in charge of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs said yesterday that it was time to reassess a campaign that was fraught with senseless killings and had failed to curtail a staggering rise in addiction.

Speaking at her first meeting in charge of a task force on narcotics, Vice-President Leni Robredo said the strategy should be as much about public health as it was about crime and justice, and that police operations, known as Oplan Tokhang, must be conducted lawfully and based on evidence.

Ms Robredo is a political rival of the popular Mr Duterte and has long been a critic of his flagship campaign, arguing that thousands of urban poor have been killed, with no sign of progress towards dismantling major drug networks.

"There are many senseless killings that have accompanied Oplan Tokhang. It has reached a certain level of notoriety, that Tokhang is a war against the poor," she said.

"It is incumbent on us to change that thinking. It is probably time that we think about shifting to something that is effective and that no one is killed senselessly."

She added: "I am all for an evidence-based strategy and approach."

Human rights experts at home and abroad are incensed by thousands of deaths in what police say were sting operations that resulted in shootouts.

Activists dispute those accounts and accuse police of executing suspects based on weak intelligence. The police reject that.

Ms Robredo was given the "drug czar" post by Mr Duterte after her remarks about abusive police and the campaign's ineffectiveness, made during an Oct 23 interview with Reuters, and in subsequent media appearances.

 
 
 

Her supporters are sceptical about the appointment by a president who has snubbed and publicly ridiculed her. But Mr Duterte's office says the President genuinely wants Ms Robredo to succeed.

Yesterday, she said drug addiction was a real problem, noting Mr Duterte's own frustrations about what he says are up to eight million drug-dependent Filipinos.

Mr Duterte has not disclosed the source of his numbers.

Ms Robredo said she interpreted Mr Duterte's offer as a sign of his openness to new ideas.

"I want to look at it as a signal that the President is open to listening to fresh perspectives about the entire campaign," she said.

"I also want to look at it as agreement that it is time to objectively assess what we have been doing."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 09, 2019, with the headline 'Philippines' anti-drug chief seeks new ways of ending scourge'. Print Edition | Subscribe