Duterte: PDEA has fewer deaths, injuries in operations

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 12) — President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday revealed why he gave the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency the lead role in his war on drugs.

"I'm trying to say that PDEA has the least of the wounded and dead, isa lang, ibigay natin sa PDEA. Drug enforcement 'to eh. Now, kung kaya ng PDEA, palagay ko, palagay ko kaya," Duterte said at the re-launching of the press briefing room at the New Executive Building in Malacañang.

[Translation: I'm trying to say that PDEA has the least of the wounded and dead, just one, so let's give it to PDEA. This is a drug enforcement agency. Now, if PDEA can do it, I think they can.]

In a memorandum signed Tuesday, the President ordered PDEA to take the lead in all operations previously handled by the Philippine National Police (PNP).

READ: Duterte gives PDEA lead role in drug war

Duterte also referred to conditions of troopers in Marawi City who served a warrant for a drug case.

"Sa Marawi casualties lang, and remember it was because of a drug case. They were serving a warrant, namatayan ako sa Marawi, 153 soldiers. Wounded-in-action, 2,048. PDEA, killed one. Ang PDEA, walang patay. Konti lang, isa-isa lang. Wounded-in-action, dalawa," he said.

[Translation: In Marawi, they had casualties because of a drug case. They were serving a warrant, 153 soldiers died in Marawi. 2,048 were wounded in action. For PDEA, they have no deaths. They only have two wounded in action.]

Malacañang said on Thursday that the distribution of illegal drugs on the streets has substantially diminished.

This is among the reasons Duterte directed PDEA to lead all anti-drug operations.

"Ang nangyari po, na-degrade 'yung street distribution networks ng mga drug lords so we now target higher echelons of the syndicates as well as their protectors in government," Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said.

[Translation: Street distibution networks among drug lords degraded, so we now target higher echelons of the syndicates as well as their protectors in government.]

However, Duterte's recent statements describing the country's drug problem seemed to contradict Abella's statement of a decline in the street distribution system of illegal drugs.

The President, in his recent speeches, said about 9,000 policemen and 40 percent of barangay captains are involved in the drug trade.

"There are other indicators in making sure, like for example, higher drug prices. That indicates also that it's being addressed," Abella said when asked what their basis was for saying that drug distribution has decreased.

"I'm sure that there are certain factors there. And so he, at this stage, the President has made an informed decision to empower PDEA to do so," he added.

In leading the drug war, Abella said PDEA will also establish an "anti-drug coalition" which will include other government agencies, local government units, civil society, the church, and the media.

In line with the President's directive, the PNP on Thursday announced that its controversial anti-drug operations have been suspended, PNP spokesperson Dionardo Carlos said.

READ: No more 'Oplan Tokhang': Police suspends all anti-drug operations

News of the PDEA taking sole lead in the drug operations was met with disappointment by the Philippine National Police Chief Ronald de la Rosa on Wednesday. He vowed however, that police would now focus on ridding its ranks of corrupt officers.

READ: PNP to focus on internal cleansing, other crimes after shift in anti-drug ops

Malacanang said it also welcomed petitions before the Supreme Court questioning the basis and legality of the war on drugs.

"We welcome this opportunity to present the legal and policy basis for the nation's war on drugs," Abella said.

The Free Legal Assistance Group on Wednesday filed a petition with the high court and said the PNP memorandum circular which stated the guidelines for the anti-illegal drug campaign is unconstitutional.

READ: Lawyer's group files SC petition vs drug war

According to the PNP, the police have conducted 76,863 anti-drug operations from July 1, 2016 to September 26, 2017.

The operations resulted in the death of 3,906 drug personalities and the arrest of 113,932.

It added that as of July 25, 2017, the police have facilitated over 1.3 million surrenders.

Over 3,500 barangays have been cleared of drugs as of August 31, 2017, the PNP said.

The operations, however, also caused the death of 85 law enforcers, while 225 were injured.

The Duterte administration's war on drugs, the PNP said, has led to the seizure of drugs, chemicals, and lab equipment worth almost P19 billion, including about P13 billion worth of shabu.

The war against illegal drugs has also uncovered an entrenched system of bribery within the Bureau of Customs, which is now the subject of intense scrutiny and moves for  a possible revamp by Congress.

READ: Drugs and 'tara': What we know about Customs mess

CNN Philippines' Ina Andolong and Ver Marcelo contributed to this report.