ALL-OUT  WAR:  GMA  NAMES  HERSELF  ANTI-NARCOTICS  CHIEF

MANILA, JANUARY 14, 2009
(STAR) By Paolo Romero - President Arroyo named herself as the country’s anti-drug overlord yesterday, declaring an all-out war against illegal drugs amid the scandal involving government prosecutors, anti-narcotics agents and families of suspected drug dealers.

Mrs. Arroyo said she needed to step in to save the judicial system from being corrupted by narcotics traffickers.

“I will temporarily act as the (anti-drug) czar, or overseer of the war against illegal drugs,” Mrs. Arroyo announced before a Cabinet meeting at Malacañang attended by Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) chairman Vicente Sotto III and Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) chief Dionisio Santiago.

The President told the Department of Justice (DOJ) and PDEA to stop trading accusations and focus on the war against illegal drugs.

Mrs. Arroyo had ordered five state prosecutors to go on leave as the government probes claims they were offered bribes to dismiss complaints against the three “Alabang Boys” who were allegedly involved in drug trafficking.

“Governments that delay action against illegal drugs, or regard it as a routine police matter, do so at their own peril,” Mrs. Arroyo told the Cabinet meeting.

“A country awash with illegal drugs is a country compromised, its law and order institutions tainted and corrupted,” she said.

Mrs. Arroyo said her order to put on leave the five state prosecutors was meant to show “to all how serious the government is in the campaign against the drug problem.”

“It is in this tragic context that the government should map out its all-out war, an unyielding and unrelenting war against illegal drugs and their devil merchants,” the President said.

She said the campaign would be a “trinity against illegal drugs” composed of law enforcement, judicial action, and policy-making, which would be a comprehensive policy consisting of prevention, enforcement, rehabilitation and after-care.

Mrs. Arroyo said the controversy over the Alabang Boys’ case had been a wake-up call for law enforcement agencies to “jolt us into action.”

The President declared she would push for an “unyielding and unrelenting war” against drugs.

Sotto, for his part, said the campaign would not be easy with authorities up to now trying to get a clear picture on the extent of the drug problem and at the same time, contending with a low resolution rate of cases filed.

Sotto added Mrs. Arroyo would relinquish the job once the controversy over the Alabang Boys case is resolved.

He said the President wanted the investigation into the allegations of bribery against the state prosecutors finished by Jan. 27.

The state prosecutors ordered to take leave are alleged to have sought to release the three suspects in return for millions of pesos in bribes.

PDEA officials led by Maj. Ferdinand Marcelino, chief of the agency’s Special Enforcement Service, testified to a congressional inquiry against the prosecutors last week, alleging that money changed hands to release the suspects.

Justice Undersecretary Ricardo Blancaflor led the prosecutors in filing a leave of absence yesterday before his boss, Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez.

Blancaflor said he would leave it up to Gonzalez to extend his five-day leave of absence.

“If on Monday he (Gonzalez) tells me ‘you still have to prolong your leave,’ then I will take it from there,” he said.

Blancaflor said he would continue his concurrent duty as spokesman for the Anti-Terrorism Council and chairman of the Extrajudicial Killings Task Force.

Gonzalez had noted the alleged irregularity in Blancaflor’s action of coursing the draft order to release the three suspects through his office.

Gonzalez earlier suspected that it was Blancaflor who was working for the freedom of the three suspects.

He said Blancaflor is now the subject of an internal investigation by the DOJ’s National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).

NBI special task force chief Arnel Dalumpines said all the prosecutors involved in the case have submitted their affidavits for the investigation.

Dalumpines said they are still awaiting word from PDEA’s Marcelino to submit his sworn statement.

Marcelino, through his lawyer, earlier said he would submit a detailed narration of the events today.

Chief State Prosecutor Jovencito Zuño, Senior State Prosecutor Philip Kimpo, DOJ-Task Force Anti-Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs member Misael Ladaga and State Prosecutor John Resado have all submitted their affidavits denying the allegations of fixing by Marcelino.

The families of the suspects also submitted their respective affidavits denying allegations of bribing the prosecutors to dismiss the drug case.

Hail, Czar

Lawmakers hailed Mrs. Arroyo for stepping into the fray and “micro-managing” the drug problem.

Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri said Mrs. Arroyo’s decision to appoint herself as anti-drug czar would put the anti-drug campaign on the right track.

“(With) GMA (Mrs. Arroyo) as CEO… she can order DOJ, PDEA, executive officers to review dismissed cases and possible re-filing (of these cases) in court,” Zubiri said.

Zubiri said he couldn’t blame Sotto and PDEA officials if they sought the President’s help to step into the fray out of frustration with DOJ prosecutors.

Speaker Prospero Nograles said the President made the right decision to appoint herself as anti-drug czar to tap government’s vast resources against illegal drugs under her personal command.

“I guess nobody can do it better than her under the circumstances,” Nograles said.

Palawan Rep. Antonio Alvarez said the President’s decision “can only be a positive development.”

“It’s good that the entire anti-drug machinery is now placed under presidential receivership even temporarily. She should stop the squabble and energize the agencies involved,” he said.

“It’s welcome news. The President will be directly accountable for the success or failure of the government program against illegal drugs,” Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr. said.

Marikina Rep. Marcelino Teodoro said Mrs. Arroyo’s decision should provide the “additional boost” in the fight against unlawful drugs.

“The agencies concerned should treat this as a wake-up call to enforce the law by giving drug offenders the harshest punishment,” he said.

Sen. Loren Legarda advised Mrs. Arroyo not to spare sacred cows and ensure that the government prosecutors are put to task.

“Catch not only small fry but the big fish, whoever they are,” Legarda said.

“Instead of micro managing again, (Mrs. Arroyo) should just remove and replace the corrupt, inefficient and inept officials in the anti-drug campaign,” Sen. Francis Escudero added.

Symbolic

For his part, Bayan Muna Rep. Teodoro Casiño, a critic of the President, said what she needs to do “is to clean up the DOJ starting with its secretary and to strengthen the PDEA.”

“(Mrs. Arroyo) should just do her job without resorting to fancy titles and gimmicks,” he said.

Another administration critic, Rep. Joel Villanueva of the party-list group Citizens Battle Against Corruption, said Mrs. Arroyo is out to shore up her falling trust rating.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson said Mrs. Arroyo’s decision take over is “more symbolic than functional. It also sort of displaced Sotto as drug czar,” he said.

“While that’s her prerogative as President and she did it probably to effectively control and supervise the working relationship between law enforcement and the prosecution against illegal drugs, it has rendered Sotto’s position untenable, being relegated to a mere assistant unless he retains his mandate as head of DDB,” Lacson said.

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr., on the other hand, questioned the credibility of Mrs. Arroyo in leading the country’s fight against illegal drugs.

Pimentel said Mrs. Arroyo herself faces problem on addressing corruption issues in her government.

“(It has turned) from bad to worse, if GMA takes over the drug fight. She’s already saddled with too many perceptual and actual problems of corruption, credibility and incompetence she can only lose,” Pimentel said.

Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano also questioned the capability of Mrs. Arroyo as anti-drug czar.

“The next question to be asked is if she can be effective in her new role. It’s a popular move to show people admin means business and seriously going after drugs, but will she be effective?” he said.

Cayetano said the issue that should be resolved is the legality of the arrest and the dismissal of the case against the so-called Alabang Boys.

“The question is, was the arrest by the book and producing enough evidence as claimed by PDEA or were DOJ prosecutors correct in dismissing case?” he asked.

Cayetano proposed creating an independent panel that would review dismissed drug cases.

He said a review of dismissed cases by an independent group would send a stronger message to drug peddlers rather than appointing herself as czar. –With Christina Mendez, Jess Diaz, Evelyn Macairan, Sandy Araneta 


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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