BALI, Indonesia — A realization of the global scope of the narcotics problem by the head of United Nations (UN) validates what President Rodrigo Duterte knew all along while debunking the claims of his critics of the alleged “brutal” character of Mr. Duterte’s signature war on drugs.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres urged swift action from governments to address the worsening world-wide problem during a recent high-level counter-narcotics event.
Guterres said addressing the narcotics menace is “more than just a policy issue” and that “the reality is that drugs and addiction are not abstract issues.”
“I reported this to the President and all along they are just articulating in a different way what President Duterte has been saying,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said during the symbolic turnover of the Philippines’ aid for the relief efforts in Central Sulawesi at the Patra Bali Resorts and Villas here.
The UN forum focused on the world-wide drug problem and in which Guterres said the issue “is personal.”
“All of us have stories” and “it is our duty to act–and act now,” the UN chief underscored.
Guterres said he had lost a friend to drugs “at an unbearably young age” and also described how his sister had spent many years working as a psychiatrist at a drug treatment center in the Portuguese capital of Lisbon.
“I saw the heavy toll it took on her day after day as she treated those suffering so badly,” he said, adding that he had “enormous admiration” for her. “I think I have done several tough jobs in my life. Nothing compares with what I have seen her do,” he added.
Cayetano said while there are different views on how to deal with the (drugs) problem, “I think, the first step is always recognizing that there is a problem. It’s just like addiction. Unless you admit that you are an addict, you can’t get the help you need.”
He added the President expressed delight that leaders of the world, one by one, are acknowledging it’s a global problem and it affects all ages, all classes of society.
“Hopefully, with this recognition more concerted efforts will be there,” Cayetano stated.
In his report before the UN General Assembly last month, Guterres bared that around 450,000 people die from drug overdose every year and that in recent years, 31 million people round the world are estimated to have required treatment for drug addiction.
Global drug-related deaths also have gone up 60 percent in the last 15 years.
The global production of opium and cocaine, also, “has never been higher,” according to Guterres. He said the prevailing drug problem the world is facing has gotten “personal” as it is a fact that everyone has been affected by it one way or another.
“National priorities may differ, but the global community shares a common goal: to protect people’s security, health and well-being,” he emphasized.
This hits close to home, Cayetano said, as he has seen and heard stories of overseas Filipino workers (OFW) and their families torn apart by the drug menace and steps must be taken on the domestic front to address the problem.
“Our OFW are sacrificing a lot being away from their families. And the only thing they ask of us, they ask from the government, is to keep their families safe. There are many who have good earnings but only to find out that their children are into drugs where the money they send home goes. Or, if their children avoid being addicts they fall victim to criminals high on drugs,” Cayetano said.
“We recognize that it is not just a political issue, it is not a policy issue. It’s personal to so many people,” he added.
This is why the President remains consistent with his campaign against illegal drugs, Cayetano said, despite the criticisms and accusations of human rights abuses hurled his way.
“Drugs is like trying to stop water from flowing through the river, it will look for a way to afflict addiction. Unless you build a really sturdy, hi-tech dam you cannot stop it. So it is not possible that this administration is anti-drugs and then the next one will be lax. We need to strengthen the institution and then have a long-term plan,” Cayetano said.
He also reiterated that although priorities of nations may differ, the President shares a common goal with the global community which is the protection of people’s security, health and well-being.
Stronger efforts needed
The Philippine National Police (PNP), however, said a lot still needed to be done in the campaign against narcotics.
Chief Supt. Benigno Durana, PNP spokesman, made the remark after President Duterte revealed another matrix indicating the involvement of seven active and retired police officers in illegal drug activities.
“We need to continuously cleanse our ranks of misfits and scalawags,” Durana said.
Based on the report, Mr. Duterte identified the police officials as retired Senior Supts. Eduardo Acierto and Leonardo Suan, former Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) deputy chief for administration Supt. Ismael Fajardo Jr., Supt. Lorenzo Bacia, Inspectors Lito Pirote and Conrado Caragdag and SPO4 Alejandro Gerardo Liwanag, who were allegedly tagged in the “enormous” illegal drugs network in the country.
“So far this is an (intelligence information), our investigation is continuous, not only our regular investigation but also the counter intelligence, not only for these police officers but also other police officers who may have derogatory reports especially in illegal drugs,” Durana noted.
Report needs validation
The PNP spokesman clarified they have yet to validate the report before filing charges against the implicated cops.
“Since an intelligence information is inadmissible in court, definitely a case build-up and thorough investigation is in motion right after we relieved (them) based on the order of Albayalde,” he added.
Duterte first made public the “Secret Special Report” on the involvement of high-ranking law enforcement officials in the drug trade in a Palace event on Tuesday, where he asked his top aide, Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go, to provide media copies of the 15-page document.
Earlier, PNP chief Director General Oscar Albayalde had said these officers have already been relieved of their positions to give way to a fair investigation.
The active cops who have already been relieved since Monday were said to be assigned to the PNP-Drug Enforcement Group (DEG), Personnel Holding and Accounting Unit (PHAU), Bicol Region and Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
Suan will remain assigned to PHAU while Bacia from PRO-ARRM was assigned to PHAU, Pirote from PRO3 to PHAU, Caragdag from PRO Cordillera to PHAU and Liwanag from PRO 2 to PHAU.
Acierto, who was on top of the matrix, was one of the seven cops who were ordered dismissed in August over their alleged involvement in the anomalous issuance of AK-47 rifle licenses from 2011 to 2013 that supposedly ended up in the hands of New People’s Army rebels in Mindanao.
He was also alleged to be the mentor of Fajardo, who was also relieved as PDEA’s second highest official in September.
This is due to his alleged involvement in the P6.8-billion shabu smuggling case in Cavite in August.
UN’s Guterres called the global drugs problem as “alarming” as he pointed out the global production of opium and manufacture of cocaine “has never been higher.”
“Some 450,000 people die every year from overdoses or drug-related health issues,” he said, adding in recent years “some 31 million people around the world” required drug-addiction treatment.
Non-medical use of tramadol in parts of Africa and the Middle East is threatening communities that are already fragile. And the United States is in an “utterly heart-breaking” opioid crisis, according to the UN chief.
He voiced concern that only one-in-six people who need drug-addiction treatment receives it, and for women, the figure is even higher.
Firstly, he underscored the urgency to “crack down on drug trafficking and those who profit from human misery,” specifically by denying them safe havens and better cross-border cooperation; improving intelligence-sharing and analysis across drug supply chains, and targeting the links between drugs, corruption, arms, human trafficking and terrorist networks.
By Kristina Maralit