THE DRUG-WAR: WHO IS IN CHARGE HERE?

Manila, June 24, 2003  EDITORIAL: (The Philippine Star) -  There’s a Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency headed by a retired general who reports directly to the President. This civilian has under him a police officer with a rank equivalent to a three-star military general, whose functions remain unclear, although he thinks he’s in charge of operations.

The PDEA did its job within its small budget and a murky mandate, having several well-publicized drug busts in recent months. Now President Arroyo wants a sweeping campaign against drugs similar to the controversial crackdown in Thailand, where over 2,000 people were killed in a three-month operation aimed principally at stopping the methamphetamine trade.

Even before the Philippine campaign can take off, however, the drive is getting bogged down in the confusion over who’s in charge. The President named Sen. Robert Barbers, who chairs the Senate committees on public order and illegal drugs, as her so-called anti-drug czar. This early, however, questions are already being raised about the constitutionality of giving a lawmaker executive functions.

Yesterday, on Barbers’ recommendation, Malacańang said former Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim would be named presidential adviser on illegal drugs. Like Barbers, Lim’s functions are unclear, but the former mayor said yesterday he might revive his controversial spray-painting scheme. This time he vows it won’t be declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

In the absence of executive orders from Malacańang, no one is sure what the pecking order is in the anti-drug campaign. In an effort to clear the air, the PDEA chief, Anselmo Avenido, said yesterday the only anti-drug chief was the President herself, and the PDEA remained the lead agency in the campaign. He has no problem "reporting" to Barbers, Avenido said. But he stressed that if the retired cops Lim wants to help, they can report to law enforcement units. Which reminds us: Where does the Philippine National Police and the National Bureau of Investigation, which also have their respective anti-narcotics units, fit into the scheme of this campaign?

In Thailand, there was never any question that Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra himself was in charge of the campaign. He ordered it, saw it through, accepted the flak and took full responsibility for the consequences. If President Arroyo wants to launch a similar campaign with the same results, the first thing she must do is to clarify who’s in charge.

When you say ‘Dirty Harry’, better be ready to fight dirty

BY THE WAY By Max V. Soliven
The Philippine Star 06/24/2003

There’s a difference between backbone and wishbone. No wonder there’s an expression like "wishy-washy". Thus far, in the so-called war against drugs, we’ve had bombastic announcements followed up by disappointments.

When the President first declared she was taking command of the battle to crush the drug syndicates, a hundred or more arrests were announced immediately. As soon as we examined those who had been picked up more closely, it came to light that they were mostly drug addicts and not drug pushers.

Now, unless plans miscarry at the very last minute, former Gung Ho cop, NBI Director, ex-Mayor, and ex-DILG chief Fred Lim will spearhead the drive against the drug octopus.

I can already see trouble on the horizon for Fighting Fred, however. Even from a cursory glance, you’ll see he has too many Bosses, or people who consider themselves to be above him. In this town of The Vain and The Vainglorious , this is tantamount to handcuffing Lim even before he begins to fight. Unless the President reviews the problem and gives him his head, in short the license to forge ahead without fear or favor, at the head of his 60 "untouchables", Lim will end up shackled – with the drug lords getting away, leaving their scornful laughter echoing behind them.

To begin with, how can we define the role of Senator Robert Z. Barbers who’s supposed to be the – what was it? Chairman of the enterprise – i.e., he remains a Senator but oversees the war on drugs as Chairman of the Committee on Order and Dangerous Drugs.

How can anybody operate with one foot in the legislature, and the other foot kicking out at the drug syndicates? It was only Our Lord Jesus Christ who was capable of bilocation; i.e., being able to be physically in two different places at the same time. (It’s said that the newly-minted Saint, Padre Pio, used to be able to appear in two different places simultaneously, but the second was only an apparition.)

Who’ll be giving orders to the agents and policemen in the field, then? The Action Man, Fred Lim? or will Bobby Barbers be giving orders to Fred?

If you’ll recall, Senator Barbers had made it clear to President GMA and the public that he was ready and willing to quit his Senate seat if he were designated Anti-Drug Czar by the Chief Executive. However, GMA obviously didn’t wish to upset the precarious balance of power in the Senate by losing one of her majority senators (thus causing Franklin Drilon, quite probably, to lose his Senate Presidency). And so this blurred version of "command" in the anti-drug battle was invented. But it won’t work if there are so many chieftains barking orders right and left.

Although Bobby Barbers used to work under Lim, when the latter was a police Major General, he’s now a Senator and former Secretary of Interior and Local Government to boot. Moreover, he’s the Patriarch of a family dynasty. His mother used to be governor of Surigao del Norte. Today, his son Robert Lyndon Barbers is governor of Surigao del Norte; another son is Congressman Robert "Ace" Barbers of Surigao del Norte (one of the Spice Boys in the House). A third, Dean Barbers, is now General Manager of the Philippine Tourism Authority. They all graduated from O.B. Montessori, that’s why I know. Senator Bobby Barbers pater is a kind of nephew of ours, that’s why they were enrolled there – his father originally came from Cabugao, Ilocos Sur. This is retired RTC Judge of Manila Felix V. Barbers, our cousin and brother of Police General Jimmy Barbers, the late Mayor Arsenio Lacson’s favorite cop and trusted aide.

It was Bobby Barbers who was one of the NBI agents in the blue police van in which there was a scuffle and the notorious drug lord, "Don" Pepe Oyson, was killed. Oyson was a cold-blooded criminal boss who had ordered the torture and death of newsman Tim Olivarez. (The hapless victim had allegedly been cut to pieces and the pieces fed to the fishes. That’s the kind of thing the drug lords do.)

Surely, Barbers will insist on giving the orders, don’t you think?

* * *

Another boss of Fred Lim, if the plantilla shown me yesterday is followed, will be Undersecretary Anselmo S. Avenido, Jr., Director General of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA).

He, too, is a retired police general. He was, in fact, Philippine National Police (PNP) deputy director general before he retired. President Macapagal-Arroyo announced the appointment of Avenido to head the PDEA on July 19, 2002, last year, and he was endowed with the title of "Drug Czar". (Susmariosep, everybody’s a Drug Czar or Czar of something or other – we’ve had more Czars in this country than the Romanovs of Russia.)

Avenido and Lim, of course, as in the case of Barbers, have worked together in the past, and are on the best of terms. Yet, nobody’s perfect. Somewhere down the line will be a clash of wills and personalities.

After all, Avenido was always at the top of his class in the University of the Philippines, the Ateneo de Manila, and in his studies abroad. When he graduated from the Philippine Military Academy (Class 1967), he was "Baron" of the Academy which is, in broad terms, not strictly academic valedictorian but Tops in Everything. His classmates and peers in PMA ’67 were former PNP Director General Roberto "Bobby" Lastimoso, the current Land Transportation Office (LTO) chief and DOTC Asst. Secretary who had been the recipient of that unfortunate televised scolding by GMA, and former PNP Chief, Police General Santiago Alińo.

Barbers, Avenido and Lim – a great combination in theory – but who’s the real Czar?

* * *

I had a heart-to-heart talk with our old friend, Fred, over lunch yesterday, and I personally told him the very caveats I’ve now put in writing, so I’m not telling any tales out of school. After our lunch, he went on to his meeting with Barbers and the other two potential gang-busters, Fred’s former right-hand man in the NBI, Captain Reynaldo Jaylo, originally from the Western Police District; and another two-fisted cop, retired Major Lucio Margallo, who conducted drug busts aplenty in the past.

At 6 p.m. yesterday, Lim met in Malacańang with Presidential Executive Secretary Bert Romulo, who’s straight as a dye and must not be confused with his cousin. "Triple R", or Roberto R. Romulo. Bert confirmed Lim’s designation as Presidential Adviser on Illegal Drugs.

In sum, the way I understand it, while Barbers has "over-all" chairmanship, and USEC Avenido will cooperate, and the group will operate under the blanket of the two "chairmen", Lim and his 60 agents and policemen will have operational independence – or, at least, a mandate close to "independence".

Both Jaylo and Margallo will enjoy the ranks of Director 2 and Director 3 in the PDEA which, I understand, will entitle them to monthly paychecks of between P22,000 to P24,000. Each of the two will head a "Team".

Lim hopes to recruit a third crackerjack officer, Police Col. Carlos Baltazar, who’s currently in the Inspectorate of the Western Police District (WPD) which means, in police parlance, the "freezer" in the PNP. It’s suspected that Baltazar was consigned to virtual floating status and the freezer owing to his closeness to Lim – but, if Barbers and Lim so decide, he will be "liberated" immediately after his coming retirement by being placed in charge of the Third Team of the "Untouchables".

Lim, of course, has been empowered to handpick the men under his command.

This is the brave enterprise which will be hopefully launched shortly – to attack the P30 billion-a-year Drug Monster.

* * *

GMA, when the chips are down, must resolve to back Fred Lim and his agents all the way. For there will be strong pressures put on her and the public, with innuendos designed to demolish them, defang them, or intrigue them out of the game.

Already, cellphone texts have been flying all over the place alleging that Barbers can’t be trusted to combat the drug syndicates since his own home province of Surigao del Norte is "reportedly" awash in drugs like shabu. In short, the "black" propagandists declare, if you can’t clean up your own home province, how on earth can you clean up the nation? The texts even hint that Barbers is the protector and godfather of the drug trade in his province. The texters claim the senator has a P126-million mansion there – wow! You can be sure their next targets will be Lim, Jaylo and Margallo.

Lim has been called in the media, admiringly, "Dirty Harry", with a bow to movie action star Clint Eastwood’s fast-gun character, and the flicker, Make My Day! When you’re fighting in the gutter, indeed, it gets dirty. The drug octopus is not defeated by playing by the Marquess of Queensbury rules.

* * *

Nobody knows the frustration of a good cop who had to outdraw his opponents better than Captain Rey Jaylo, who’s famous for the "double tap" by which he outgunned many assailants who were shooting at him.

Would you believe, after 13 years, Jaylo is still defending himself in a case of homicide filed against him for that shootout in the parking lot of the Magallanes Commercial Center of Makati, which occurred on July 12, 1990? Sanamagan. It had been a drug "buy-bust" operation. Jaylo, a WPD police captain, was heading the NBI special task force which "busted" the heroin dealers involved – lo and behold, the men Jaylo and his group tried to apprehend turned out to be no less than the Deputy Commander of the military Northern Luzon Command (Nolcom), Col. Rolando de Guzman, and Major Franco Calanog, Nolcom Intelligence Chief, plus a PC-CIS civilian agent named Avelino Manguera.

The three allegedly tried to draw their weapons, but Jaylo and his team were faster. When the smoke cleared, the three men were down. No less than 10 kilos of heroin, at that time worth P230 million, were recovered from their car.

It seems that De Guzman had been a PMA classmate of Armed Forces Chief of Staff Renato de Villa, who ordered a probe of Jaylo and his men, directing the then Philippine Constabulary-Integrated National Police Chief, General Cesar Nazareno, to handle the investigation with the CIS (Criminal Investigation Service) as the "primary action agency".

In sum, this odds were stacked against Jaylo from the very beginning – in disgust, he resigned from the service. Loyally, 40 of his policemen also resigned with him. Fred Lim was then NBI Director (and police Major General), so he incorporated those resigned cops into the NBI.

As for Colonel de Guzman, he was buried by his PMA "mistahs" with full military honors and interred in the Libingan ng mga Bayani.

Since officers who were PMA graduates and "cavaliers" have recently been captured as members or leaders of kidnap gangs, as well as involved in other crimes, the anti-drug Teams may have to grapple with the same kind of "Old Boys Club" fraternal loyalty, if they ever encounter PMA rogue-criminals in drug busts and, in the extreme, in shoot-outs. Will they be made to suffer the same fate as Jaylo, who’s been defending himself out of pocket in court – this time the Sandiganbayan – for so many years?

It’s time for the President and her top brass to make it abundantly clear that the fight against the drug menace must be a fight to the finish. This destructive "disease" has already enslaved four million addicts here! (In Malaysia, it was just revealed, there’s a new addict every 30 minutes, and their population of 22 million is much less than ours.)

Our policy has to be, if we hope to win this life-or-death struggle, "zero tolerance". If baril-sa-baril is required, then we’ll have to bring in the heavy artillery.

Remember, the drug lords and their powerful syndicates maintain armies of goons and enforcers, many of them policemen. They have big-time politicians in their pocket. They have the best lawyers, prosecutors, and judges money can buy. They have clout. The word is kamandag. They have more "cash-and-carry" money than the national government.

It will take more than Jack the Giant Killer to tackle this Giant.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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