PH drug policy-making body still has no chief

EX-DDB CHAIR. Benjamin Reyes, who used to chair the DDB, attends a forum on drug policy a month before he was fired. Rappler file photo

EX-DDB CHAIR. Benjamin Reyes, who used to chair the DDB, attends a forum on drug policy a month before he was fired.

Rappler file photo

Over a month since President Rodrigo Duterte unceremoniously sacked the chair of the Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB), the government agency tasked with crafting nationwide policies and strategies on drug prevention and control still has no new chief.

According to a DDB member, the board has been without a chairman since Duterte announced in a speech on May 24 that he fired Benjamin Reyes.

“Nobody wants to take over the job,” said another board source who spoke to Rappler.

The Palace has yet to announce any appointments to the position, as of posting. Reyes is still listed as the DDB chairman in the official DDB website. 

In a speech after arriving from Russia and declaring martial law in Mindanao due to a siege by the terrorist Maute Group, Duterte criticized Reyes because he supposedly gave the “wrong” figure on Filipino drug users.

The DDB, in its latest survey conducted from January 2016 to February 2016, said there are over 1.8 million drug users in the country. But Duterte – without providing a clear source for his information – has insisted that there are 4 million drug users in the Philippines.

Duterte has mentioned former Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) chief Dionisio Santiago as saying there were 3 million drug users in the country 5 years ago.

"You do not contradict your own government," Duterte said of Reyes at the time. "If you are there, you're just a civilian member of the board, you are not the implementer of the law."

In the same speech, he announced: "[You’re] fired today, get out of service."

Although the DDB, under Reyes, announced the 1.8 million figure, the former DDB chair had also defended Duterte’s use of the 4 million figure.

Even without a chief though, sources from the board said things were running smoothly since the DDB's programs and policies were already in place. The DDB is composed of 17 different members – including the Philippine National Police, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, and the health department, among others.

At the same time, Duterte recently created the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs or ICAD, which is tasked with "effective conduct of anti-illegal drug operations and arrest of high-value drug personalities down to the street-level peddlers and users." 

At a drug policy forum in early May, Reyes unveiled a plan that would consider illegal drugs as both a health and a peace and order issue. His plan gave United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on summary killings Agnes Callamard “hope” because of its “balanced” strategy.

Prior to his appointment as DDB chairman in August 2016, Reyes was Assistant Secretary and Deputy Executive Director for Operations of the board. He replaced Felipe Rojas Jr, an appointee of the previous administration. – Rappler.com