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Philippine anti-drug czarina wants rights groups' help

Vice President Maria Robredo says she wants a new face for the narcotics campaign to end the killing

Joe Torres, Manila

Joe Torres, Manila

Updated: November 12, 2019 05:15 AM GMT
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Philippine anti-drug czarina wants rights groups' help

Philippine Vice President Maria Leonor Robredo, head of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs, wants church and human rights groups to be part of the government’s anti-narcotics campaign. (Photo by Jire Carreon)

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The new chief of the Philippines' anti-narcotics body has proposed including faith and human rights groups in its ranks to help spearhead the government's war on drugs.

Maria Robredo, the country's vice president, said she wants to broaden the membership of the body to include private organizations and advocates.

"This is our fight — that's why we all have to work together," said Robredo, who was named head of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs last week.

President Rodrigo Duterte appointed Robredo, a leader of the political opposition, after she criticized the way he was running his campaign against illegal drugs.

The vice president accepted the president's challenge to fix what she thought was wrong with his deadly drug war.

She vowed to end the killing of suspected drug users and dealers. She said the success of the anti-narcotics campaign will not be based on the number of those killed "but the number of lives improved."

"They [the anti-drugs panel] have been doing a lot of meaningful things. We'll strengthen those. But the things that we see are wrong, especially the killings, we'll make sure they won't happen again," Robredo said on Nov. 11.

Duterte created the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs to "ensure the effective conduct of all anti-illegal drug operations and the arrest of high-value drug personalities."

The vice president said she wanted a new face to the government’s drugs campaign and rebrand it "to change [the] mindset" of people who see the campaign as a "war against the poor."

Human rights groups say about 30,000 people have been killed in the government's three-year-old anti-narcotics drive.

Robredo said she believes that drug addiction is a "serious problem" and she is for a "strong national policy against illegal drugs."

"I also feel that we should do things right. Everything that we’re doing should be within the bounds of the rule of law," she added.

On Nov. 11, the vice president met with officials from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime to look at alternative approaches to the anti-narcotics drive. The meeting noted that only 10 percent of drug users need inpatient rehabilitation treatment.

Philip Dy, Robredo’s chief of staff, said community-based rehabilitation "should suffice or should be the first step" for the remaining 90 percent, who were classified as occasional users."

A 2012 survey by the Dangerous Drugs Board estimated the number of drug users in the Philippines at 1.3 million, but Duterte floated estimates of seven to eight million users.

Robredo is seeking to replicate community-based programs of non-government and church groups that advocated a "more public health-based” way of solving the narcotics problem.

She cited a church program in Kalookan Diocese in Manila that opened parishes and teamed up with local officials to rehabilitate drug users under a program of "healing, not killing."

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