PHILIPPINE STAR/ MICHAEL VARCAS

By John Victor D. Ordoñez, Reporter

THE NEW Philippine government under President Ferdinand “Bongbong” R. Marcos, Jr. will carry on with the controversial drug war of the previous administration, according to the new Interior secretary.

“The war against drugs will be as intensive as before and will be the basis of my oath as a public official in accordance with the constitution,” Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Benjamin “Benhur” C. Abalos, Jr. said in a press briefing on Monday.

Mr. Abalos, who also held an appointive position under President Rodrigo R. Duterte, said that he would uphold the rule of law in continuing the war on drugs.

“We will involve other concerned government agencies, and most importantly, the communities, to make sure that we have a comprehensive campaign against illegal drugs,” he said.

Mr. Abalos noted that most investigations of drug-related killings are deterred due to lack of witnesses. He said police drug operations should have at least three witnesses present from the media, the Department of Justice (DoJ), and the barangay where the operations take place.

In May, the DoJ dropped 29 cases from its list of extralegal killings and torture cases for lack of evidence and cited complainants who decided not to pursue their charges.

The National Police Commission, which is under the DILG’s supervision, has the authority to investigate and dismiss erring police officers.

Mr. Abalos, who served as chairman of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority under Mr. Duterte, was previously elected as mayor and congressman of Mandaluyong City.

He noted that his experience as mayor would help the DILG’s supervision of law enforcement agencies that carry out anti-illegal drug operations.

Government prosecutors have filed charges in court against police officers in four cases and plan to probe 250 more of what could have been wrongful deaths in Mr. Duterte’s drug war, former DoJ Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra told the United Nations Human Rights Council in February.

Former Interior Undersecretary Epimaco V. Densing told the ABS-CBN News Channel in May that more or less 95% of the deaths in Mr. Duterte’s drug war did not involve police foul play and were “within the bounds of the law.”

“It was not perfect, but the violations are not considered massive in the human rights perspective,” he said.

A group of human rights lawyers, meanwhile, has urged Mr. Marcos to rejoin the International Criminal Court (ICC) and to work closely with the tribunal should it continue its probe of the previous administration’s war on drugs.

In a statement on Monday, Manananggol Laban sa Extra-Judicial Killings (Manlaban sa EJK) said the resumption of the ICC’s probe would achieve a “high level of accountability” as it would confront those who committed atrocities during anti-illegal drug operations.

“If Marcos really intends to continue the war on drugs within the framework of the law and with respect for human rights, he should cooperate more closely with the ICC investigation, and eventually, rejoin the assembly of states parties,” the group said.

ICC Prosecutor Karim Ahmed Khan had requested the court’s pre-trial chamber to reopen the probe months after it was halted upon the Philippine government’s request.

Manlaban sa EJK said the potential probe of drug-related killings must include a review of policies developed by senior government and law enforcement officials, not just policemen during the operations

At least 6,117 suspected drug personalities had been killed in police operations as of April 2021, according to data from the Philippine government.

An inter-agency committee formed 15 teams last year that probed extralegal killings and human rights violations involving the government’s anti-illegal drug operations.

Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin C. Remulla earlier said that he would look into the government’s initial review of the anti-illegal drug campaign.

LOCAL GOVERNMENTS
In the same briefing, Mr. Abalos said he would ensure the “equitable” implementation of the Mandanas ruling, which expands the share of local government units (LGUs) in national taxes beginning this year.

The law is named after Batangas Governor Hermilando I. Mandanas who challenged the government’s previous position that local governments were entitled to a smaller share of national government income.

“What is important is the word equitable, it means what is equitable for the LGUs and what is equitable for the national government,” Mr. Abalos said.

“We will work closely with the Department of Budget and Management and the National Economic and Development Authority on implementing the law.”

As DILG head, Mr. Abalos also plans to prioritize digitalizing government procedures, reducing crime within LGUs, and regularly inspecting jails for drug paraphernalia.