PDEA: Police removal from war on drugs leaves 'big vacuum'

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 13) — A lack of manpower is the biggest challenge facing the lead agency in the war against drugs, an official said Friday.

Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) spokesperson Derrick Arnold Carreon said they have to fill in a huge gap in personnel, now that President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered PDEA to take the helm of anti-drug operations from the Philippine National Police (PNP).

"Definitely it will leave a big vacuum especially on street-level operations," Carreon said referring to the absence of the PNP.

"Unlike before when PDEA used to focus only on high-value targets and high-impact operations, this time we will have to fill in the gap where PNP left off. So we will go high-value, we will go mid-level, we will go street-level if the situation calls for it," he added.

The Philippine National Police has about 195,000 personnel. This is in contrast to PDEA's 1,038 agents out of their 1,898 personnel nationwide.

"Malaking malaki talaga ang contribution ng PNP because they have the numbers. They have the presence all the way up to the municipalities. And definitely yung presensya nila nandun. Natutugunan agad nila yung street-level pushing," Carreon said.

PDEA is planning to recruit 1,000 to 1,500 agents every year to fill in the gap. This will mean the need for additional budget as training will cost P200,000 per agent or P300 million for 1,500 agents.

The agency's 2018 budget is at P1.4 billion, plus P934.52 million for additional facilities, equipment, and manpower. But with their new role, Carreon said they will need more funds while transitioning to a much bigger task.

"Kulang na kulang talaga. Dahil this was based on the premise that PDEA will focus on high-value targets and conducting high impact operations," he said.

He said they would seek assistance from the PNP.

"(We will) request for augmentation. When we are the direct unit on anti-drug operations while the other law enforcement units will be on the perimeter securing us," Carreon said.

PNP Spokesperson Chief Superintendent Dionardo Carlos said they are ready to provide support to the PDEA.

"When they need our support, we are working for the same government so we will not deny them any of the assistance that we can provide them," he said.

In an interview on CNN Philippines' "The Source" on Friday, PNP Chief Director General Ronald de la Rosa expressed mixed emotions about the PNP being pulled out from the war against drugs.

"Happy ako pero mixed emotions, may halong kalungkutan dahil we have devoted yung aming energy, yung aming resources for the last [year and a half], nakafocus doon sa war on drugs," he said.

(Translation: I was happy, but I have mixed emotions. There's a bit of sadness because we devoted our energy, our resources for the last [year and a half] on the war on drugs.)

READ: Police chief: Drug war turnover to PDEA shows 'President isn't a dictator'

The police produced 90 percent of the results of the drug war from July 2016 to September 2017: PNP has recorded 3,878 drug-related deaths, while PDEA has recorded 28 dead drug suspects.

Duterte's directive to the PDEA on October 10 followed controversy over how the police was handling the drug war and the deaths associated with the campaign, and the handling by customs and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) officials of the seizure of 604 kgs of shabu smuggled into the country. The smuggling incident is being investigated by a senate committee.

READ: Ethics Committee holds Faeldon's complaint vs. Lacson in abeyance

Earlier in the week, a nationwide poll revealed that  Filipinos' satisfaction with the President had dropped to "good" from "very good", while levels of trust in the President fell to "very good" from "excellent."

READ: SWS: Drop in Duterte's satisfaction, trust rating normal

On Friday, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II ordered the NBI to hand over all anti-drug operations to PDEA.