OPINION: Recycling game spits out ugly truth behind ‘drug war’

Inday Espina-Varona

Posted at Oct 16 2019 12:59 AM

Philippine National Police Director-General Oscar Albayalde stepped down on Oct. 14 after weeks of hanging tough as former colleagues regaled the Senate of his efforts to protect subordinates accused of holding back three-fourths of a 160-kilo drug haul in 2013.

The move impressed no one; certainly not the clergy, human rights workers and lawyers who aid families caught up in a mad war where patronage and corruption have blurred the lines between governance and criminality.

Albayalde said he did it for the good of the service. Sen. Bong Go, the real mouthpiece of President Rodrigo Duterte, said the top cop was asked to go on terminal leave, an order coursed through Interior Secretary Eduardo Año. Go contradicted, not for the first time, official spokesperson Salvador Panelo, who earlier claimed Albayalde faced no pressure.

Duterte feared the intense fire trained on Albayalde by former peers and senators was affecting his performance, his former aide said.

What Go failed to acknowledge was the slide in Duterte’s trust and approval ratings as Filipinos listened to these sordid details:

a) the scandal-prone but untouchable Nicanor Faeldon greenlighting the “early release for good behavior” of 3 Chinese drug lords—despite rejection by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency of their plea for executive clemency;

b) Faeldon signing an early release order for a rapist-murderer caught twice in the national penitentiary for possession and alleged peddling of drugs; and 

b) revelations that much of the in-country trade in narcotics continues to be overseen from the inside Bilibid, where reside drug lords who are the Duterte government’s main witnesses in cases filed against Sen. Leila de Lima.

NO TOUCHING HIS BOYS

The Senate investigation eventually segued into the capers of Pampanga cops grown rich from the recycling of drugs and Albayalde’s efforts to shield them from dismissal.

Through all that, Duterte, so quick to curse, threaten and attack critics—with information later exposed as false—stuck with his boys.

Terminal leave is not a punishment. It means Albayalde waltzes off with full retirement benefits. Faeldon also stepped down but remained unscathed as he skedaddled out of the glare of public scrutiny.

The original issue in the Senate investigation, now in danger of being swept under the Albayalde controversy, highlights how 3 years of Duterte’s autocratic rule has seeped down through the bureaucracy.

For all the carnage, there has been little success in stemming drug use in the country. Duterte himself admits it will continue past his 6-year term. Instead, a climate of fear and opaque, highly discretionary exercise of power has only strengthened corruption and crime.

And so we have the country’s top cop exposed as a coddler of officers caught with their snouts in the shabu trough. Drug lords don’t just escape unharmed; those already convicted even become beneficiaries of a government that has turned loose hellhounds on poor communities.

A President who promises damnation for shabu users promotes officials for the entry of billions of pesos worth of the drug that sparked his “war."

The first shipment from China, stopped by a call by a frightened warehouse executive, involved personalities found to be close to the President’s family. The second shipment, smuggled from Taiwan in magnetic lifters, led to the bizarre sight of the President accusing the PDEA of “pure speculation.” He has since fell silent on that. The PDEA said they eventually tracked the ton of shabu already scattered for commercial sale to Mindanao, the President’s home island.

A PATTERN

Opponents of Duterte’s anti-narcotics offensive call it “a deadly sham.” Cops recycle drugs; Duterte recycles erring officials.

“There is a clear pattern” in Duterte’s efforts to protect corrupt officers that “bare the hypocrisy of his war against the poor,” said Edre Olalia on the National Union of People’s Lawyers, which represents the families of those slain under the President’s campaign.

Before Albayalde, Duterte promoted then customs chief Faeldon to deputy administrator of the Office of Civil Defense and his other team members to directors’ posts in the Civil Aviation Authority and the Office of Transportation Security.

Although a senator accused Faledon of receiving $2 million in “farewell gifts” from corrupt customs brokers, Duterte said, “I really believe he is an honest man."

Duterte also hinted that the "government would need Faeldon," which rights workers now see as a portent the Bilibid scandal.

“We hope Albayalde will not be rehabilitated and recycled later to a new position in government or given comfort with a post in state owned or controlled corporation,” Olalia added.

That the police work in corrupt and irregular ways is nothing new, said another NUPL lawyer, Kristina Conti. “But a scandal of this magnitude, a damnation of the top brass and the government's centerpiece drug program, cements the reputation of the PNP as "criminals in uniform."

ALL THE WAY TO THE TOP

Those who labor in the communities most affected by the bloodbath have even harsher words, describing Albayalde’s resignation as an attempt to cover up the rot burrowing all the way to the top of government.

“Scripted from the start,” said Congregation of Mission (Vincentians) priest Fr. Danny Pilario, who in Payatas, where Duterte’s “war” has killed more than 300.

“It is hard to imagine that he does not know these moves, even the Senate proceedings,” Pilario said in response to a query sent via a private message app.

The priest, noting Duterte’s reputation for micro-managing events that directly affect him, added: “They must have already known how he (Albayalde) should act, where he will go, and what is next for his career.”

“We must keep our eyes on the ball,” he stressed.

Pilario describes that ball as deals between officials of this government and the drug lords inside the national penitentiary. “That connection… they are trying to protect the King,” the priest said.

Nardy Sabino of Rise Up for Life and Rights, a multi-faith group that helps more than 200 families affected by the killings, said Duterte’s actions, the promotion of erring officials, are “proof that narco-politics exists.”

“There will be no end to this, no reforms in the police or the armed forces, because Duterte has only strengthened patronage politics,” Sabino said.

In 2018, Duterte called his promise to wipe out drugs in 6 months as a fiasco. But that admission was not about stepping back from the brink. It was actually an excuse to justify the thousands of killings.

“But when I became President, nakita ko 'yong magnitude, the dimension of the contamination at it run into millions, at maraming namatay," he said.

In his state of the nation address this year, the President vowed to “keep fighting” till his term ends. "For it is not the eagle in the fight, but the fight in the eagle that matters,” the President said.

Over 3 years, one thing is clear: Duterte’s war is an obscenity. That Filipinos, especially the richest and brightest, allowed this will forever be a stain on the national conscience. 

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.