End to illegal drugs in Duterte term 'nearly impossible,' says PDEA chief

'FINGERS CROSSED'. PDEA chief Aaron Aquino says they will nonetheless try their best to curb illegal drug trade. Rappler screengrab

'FINGERS CROSSED'. PDEA chief Aaron Aquino says they will nonetheless try their best to curb illegal drug trade.

Rappler screengrab

MANILA, Philippines – It is "nearly impossible" for the drug menace to be completely dealt with by 2022, or by the end of President Rodrigo Duterte's presidency, no less than the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) chief Director General Aaron Aquino admitted.

"I cannot promise that we can end the war on drugs by 2022. It's nearly impossible actually," Aquino told Rappler in an interview broadcast on Wednesday, November 8.

"We're undermanned, kung kami lang (if it's only us). Kung isama mo pa ang ibang (If we include other) law enforcement agencies, I don't know. I just hope we can make it, ano? Pero kung sa PDEA (But for PDEA alone), I'll cross my fingers," the PDEA chief added.

This comes after President Duterte named PDEA as the "sole agency" in charge of his landmark war on drugs, rooted in his campaign promise of putting an end to illegal drugs in the Philippines.

According to Aquino, they just have around 1,100 members to continue what they have accomplished so far with the Philippine National Police (PNP), which has at least 190,000 men and women at their disposal.

Aquino himself headed the Central Luzon Region police office early on in Duterte's term before he took over the PDEA.

With just over a thousand operatives, the PDEA only has enough to man regional offices. (READ: PDEA chief says PNP 'still needed' in drug war)

The only way they can triumph in curbing illegal drug trade and consumption, Aquino said, is if they recruit "about a thousand [agents] every month".

"We're just recruiting close to 200 agents a year and what's 200 agents a year? I just hope I can recruit 1,000 agents a year, and by doing so, I can create my provincial offices, I can create even down to the municipal level," Aquino said.

Silver lining?

This can only be done, Aquino said, if they are given a sufficient budget.

The PDEA chief told Rappler that he has been asking the chief executive for an audience, and if he would be granted one, he would ask Duterte to increase their budget to P3.5 billion.

At present, the PDEA enjoys support from both houses of Congress as House lawmakers eye transferring the Philippine National Police (PNP)'s P900-million drug war budget to them. At the Senate, the agency was recently granted an increase of P1.2 billion.

He added that they are also open to bringing back other law enforcement agencies such as the PNP back in the picture. (READ: If crimes rise, I'll ask Duterte to order PNP back to drug war – Dela Rosa)

"I'm happy that the PNP will be back to join us [i]n the war on drugs," he said. But he quickly added that if ever Duterte decides to stick to his decision to keep the PNP out, he needs to help PDEA.

"Pero kung sabihin ng Presidente na 'Okay naman pala ang PDEA, kayang-kaya niyo pala eh', then so be it. Kaya lang tulungan niya ako in terms of equipment, in terms of manpower, para mas mapalakas ko ang PDEA," he said.

(But if the President says "The PDEA is doing okay, you can do it", then so be it. But he has to help me in terms of equipment, in terms of manpower, so I can strengthen the PDEA.) – Rappler.com

Rambo Talabong

Rambo Talabong covers security, crime, and the city of Manila for Rappler. He was chosen as a Jaime V. Ongpin Fellow in 2019 for his reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.

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