Philippines' drugs war chief struggles to stop illegal drugs from China

Philippine National Police chief Ronald dela Rosa acknowledged the difficulty in halting a surge in methamphetamine imports from China despite a campaign that has claimed thousands of lives in an interview on March  30, 2017, at the the Philippine Na
Philippine National Police chief Ronald dela Rosa acknowledged the difficulty in halting a surge in methamphetamine imports from China despite a campaign that has claimed thousands of lives in an interview on March 30, 2017, at the the Philippine National Police headquarters in Camp Crame, Quezon City.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

MANILA (BLOOMBERG) - The chief enforcer of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs acknowledged the difficulty in halting a surge in methamphetamine imports from China despite a campaign that has claimed thousands of lives.

"We do not guarantee that we will win this war," Philippine National Police chief Ronald dela Rosa said in an interview in his Manila office on Thursday (March 30). "Win or lose, at least we have done something to address the problem."

Duterte has faced strident criticism from the US, the United Nations and the European Union since being sworn in last June over his efforts to tackle drug addiction - a policy that has proved popular at home.

The Philippine police say about 2,600 people have been killed in police operations against drug traffickers, while human-rights groups label some 4,700 other murders as "extra-judicial killings."

In a speech on Thursday, Duterte again rejected international criticism of the drug war, demanding the EU "not impose your, whatever it is, your values and everything because we hate you for being a hypocrite."

Despite being a key source of drugs, China has used the issue to draw closer to Duterte and improve ties with the Philippines. Policy makers in Beijing have supported the drugs war and offered to help, with anti-narcotic cooperation among agreements reached during Duterte's trip to China last year.

Dela Rosa said on Thursday that police in the Philippines are coordinating with counterparts in China. Most of the five clandestine laboratories dismantled in Duterte's first six months in office involved Chinese citizens, he added.

Recent data provided by the Philippines Drug Enforcement Agency showed that the largest quantities of methamphetamine seized had been trafficked directly from China, according to Jeremy Douglas, regional representative of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Methamphetamine imports into the Philippines rose to 2,495kg in 2016, more than four times the amount in 2015, he said.

While better law enforcement had contributed to the rise seen in the data, other factors like treatment admissions, price, and purity trends related to methamphetamine indicated a growing demand for the drug in the Philippines, Douglas said.

"As long as market demand is not addressed, increases in law enforcement activities at a street level alone won't be able to improve the situation," he said. "We recommend addressing the market through treatment and prevention, and addressing organised crime targeting those that run the business."

Dela Rosa, 55, rose from the police ranks in Davao City, where Duterte served as mayor for more than two decades. He said the campaign targeted both street-level pushing as well as high-value targets like drug lords, drug traffickers, financers and protectors.

PASSING GRADE

He rated the drug war a success on the basis that police so far had accounted for 1.3 million people involved in the drug trade across the country, around 70 per cent of 1.8 million target set by the Dangerous Drugs Board.

"On the demand side, we can say we have a passing grade of 70 per cent," Dela Rosa said. Another measure of success, he added, was that methamphetamine prices had almost quadrupled to as much as 4,000 pesos (S$111) a gram.

Dela Rosa rejected claims by international groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty international that the drug war had resulted in thousands of extrajudicial killings.

"I just want to set the record straight," Dela Rosa said. "The 7,000 extrajudicial killings being reported by some sectors is wrong. We don't want to propagandise, we don't want to deodorise ourselves, we just want to set the record straight so that the public will not be mislead by this false reporting."

Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director Phelim Kine said in an e-mail that thousands of victims never saw a lawyer or had a proper trial.

"This is an evisceration of constitutional guarantees of due legal process that has inflicted profound harm on the judicial and social fabric of the Philippines," Kine said.