I’M sick and tried of all the blah-blah by, and on,Vice President Maria Leonor Robredo these past three years. As vice president, she has accomplished nothing and said nothing really substantial or reasonable. Why the heck do we spend time talking about her?
To be honest, this column is obviously another such blah-blah on Robredo, but what I can do when media has been over-reporting her? C’mon, what’s really the news value justifying banner headlines yesterday reporting Robredo’s inane remarks like, “I have only started” (The Manila Times and Philippine Star) and “Leni to DU30: What are you scared of?” (Philippine Daily Inquirer). (To save this column from being another total blah-blah, I raise later below issues confronting the war against drugs I hope government will consider.)
After three years of bashing Duterte and painting the country, in the words of her cheerleader Maria Ressa, a “war zone” where corpses by the President’s death squads litter the streets, she is still “starting”? Then that mindless question by Robredo asking if Duterte is scared is big news deserving banner treatment?
I dare to lecture my media colleagues: Banner headlines are for, to exaggerate it, earth-shaking events, or statements by people who have some kind of power to walk the talk. If, say, in the context of hypothetical news that some stupid UN human rights group comes out with a report condemning alleged extrajudicial killings in the Philippines, Duterte says, “I have just started,” that is big, fearful news. He has the authority and resources to walk his talk.
But a vice president with no political power, and obviously not enough brains, mouthing a sound bite?
After three years, Robredo has done nothing meaningful for any journalist to take seriously what she is saying. The Manila Bulletin, which many journalists in the past ridicule as a kind of staid paper that would have as a banner headline “Holiday season begins,” demonstrated its journalistic superiority, by having as its banner “DoT takes over SEAG billeting.” It had as its second major story though Robredo’s threatening claim, certainly a newsworthy statement: “I will reveal what I have uncovered about war on drugs.”
Robredo has done nothing to help the country in its anti-illegal drugs campaign, and in her three weeks as vice chairman of the Inter-agency Committee on the Anti-Illegal Drugs she doesn’t have any constructive criticism nor proposal for the country to end the proliferation of illegal drugs — except to end the campaign.
An anti-drug war by any government is so difficult and complicated that there is no sure formula, no detailed template to undertake it. If Robredo didn’t have any authority, she should have focused on studying what such a war requires on ground level. After all, she not only has staff with a P700 million per year budget, but the pink organization Akbayan, from which she recruited her spokesman Barry Guiterrez.
I give one example of an aspect of the anti-drug war that needs to be studied.
What has happened to the roughly 180,000 “drug personalities” whom the police and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) reported they arrested since the campaign started up to March 2019.
If they are still in prison awaiting trial or have been convicted, that means that our prison population, which was at 140,000 in 2016, has doubled. While there have been reports that our prisons have been so crowded that there has been horrific inhuman conditions there, I don’t think our prison population now totals 320,000.
Indeed, the Commission on Audit reported that for 2018, the country’s prison population totals 136,314, which means a decrease from the 140,000 level in 2016.
This data points to very serious issues in the anti-drug war.
First, with so many people because of the intense police and PDEA campaigns, has government done anything substantial to enlarge prison facilities? If there hasn’t been any substantial growth in our facilities, the anti-drug war would be transforming a huge number of people kept in extremely congested prisons into hardcore criminals who would be released to society three or four years down the road.
Second, with the intensity and success of the anti-drug war, how has our obviously inefficient justice system coped with such a drastic increase in the cases it has to decide? With so many people being arrested for possessing or selling illegal drugs, it is a no-brainer for Congress or the Supreme Court to create special, 24-hour courts dealing only with illegal-drug cases.
The third issue is related to the second and is extremely worrying.
A huge number of the 180,000 drug personalities arrested since 2016, from my anecdotal evidence, have been released to their relatives or their drug lords, with bail bonds as low as P10,000. In the jail in the town where I live, most of the “drug personalities” arrested from 2016 to 2018 have been released on bail, with only the poor souls with no relatives nor drug lords to post remaining there.
Reports from the ground claim that the police are worried and getting tired of this situation. In many cases, those arrested simply return to their illegal trade, making it a Sisyphus kind of toil for the police, arresting the same people in their area again and again.
Worse, the police have become anxious that those they have arrested and were freed on bail would get back at them, and even their relatives. The police response that hasn’t been good for the campaign is first, they pull back on the campaign, claiming to their superiors that they have already arrested and filed charges against a huge number of people in their areas, and their cases are not just up to the courts.
The second police response is certainly alarming and is right down Robredo and her ilk’s alley. Tired of seeing those whom they arrested freed on bail and returning to their horrid business, or/and afraid these criminals would retaliate, the police execute them the next time they are arrested. And the police see their deed as necessary, quick justice, which human rights crusaders labeling these as “extrajudicial killings (EJKs).”
The numbers are worrying. Three years after it started, Duterte’s war on drugs has resulted in 180,000 arrested as of March. I suspect many of these have been freed on bail. Have they returned to their illegal trade? Either we will see a surge of EJKs, or a resurgence of the drug trade.
But really, I am just guessing, as we don’t really have hard data on how many “drug personalities” are being released on bail, how many are re-arrested, how many are killed the second or third time they are arrested.
But these are the kinds of research Robredo, the Yellows, and those holier-than-thou human rights groups should have been doing in the past three years instead of blabbering inanities.
But they haven’t. I suspect that in their hearts, they are hoping the extrajudicial killings would increase, as it has been their propaganda tack to topple Duterte.