Column: Drugged (or, PDA for PDEA)

Some thoughts about knights in dull, dented armor, with some interesting links; published on January 27, 2009

Who needs martial law, when you have the Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002—and Jovito Palparan in the Dangerous Drugs Board?

As any private lawyer worth his salt will tell you, the circumstances behind the dismissal by the Department of Justice of the case against the so-called Alabang Boys are most curious. There may really be something to the allegations, aired by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency in both congressional hearings and news conferences, that state prosecutors dismissed the case for several million reasons (only a fig-leafy few of them legal).

But what has happened since the news first broke, last month, is that the sordid story became a morality tale. The opposition’s often hostile treatment of witnesses from the DOJ is easy to understand; they are stand-ins for, effigies of, the controversial justice secretary. But even administration congressmen on the House committee on dangerous drugs have self-evidently chosen to side with the PDEA—reducing the state prosecutors to splutter in defense of their strained English grammar, their selective legal reasoning, even (in the case of state prosecutor John Resado) their unusual personal circumstances.

It does not help the DOJ that a genuine hero seems to have emerged from the hearings: Maj. Ferdinand Marcelino, a witness of telenovela-like authenticity. (That is to say, his sincerity is transparent; he comes across (whatever the size of your television screen) as a hero, in search of a villain.

The result, both at the House and in the media, is an extraordinary public display of affection (PDA, in youthspeak) for the PDEA.

Lost in all the noise is the enormous power of the beast that is coiled inside the law creating the PDEA.

Tito Sotto, chairman of the Dangerous Drugs Board as reconstituted by RA 9165, hinted at the stirrings of the beast, with his appeal for a return of the death penalty. PDEA Director-General Dionisio Santiago, once one of President Macapagal-Arroyo’s favorite generals and for five months Armed Forces chief of staff, let the ghostly cat out of the bag when he admitted that PDEA agents sometimes planted evidence. “We sometimes do this although this is against the rule of law. Definitely we only apply this matter to some cases, like a subject who is publicly known to be peddling drugs but always escapes arrest. This is when we enter the picture.”

Now, the President’s impending appointment of Palparan, the so-called “Butcher” at whose whetting stone the Melo Commission laid the blame for some extrajudicial killings, to the DDB is the virtual pronouncement of the Arroyo administration’s new strategy, its own version of “narcopolitics.”

Call it paranoia, but perhaps we should brace for a future where critics, whistle-blowers, just plain annoying people can be removed from (political or media) circulation with a timely dose of planted evidence.

Note that Section 11 of RA 9165 provides that mere possession of “any dangerous drug” (the provision specifies the quantities) can result in “life imprisonment to death and a fine ranging from five hundred thousand pesos (P500,000.00) to ten million pesos (P10,000,000.00).”

* * *

My point: We should hold the PDEA’s feet to the same fire we started for the DOJ. Far from a simple black-and-white fable, we are dealing with the human narrative in all its messy glory: flawed human beings, doing sometimes contradictory things, for not necessarily simple reasons.

For instance, my instinctive reaction to the House hearings (a different matter from the newspaper reports) was formed largely by an aversion to the PDEA’s chief legal counsel, Alvaro Bernabe Lazaro. I did not know him from Adam (or Adan), but the way he comported himself during the first televised hearing triggered internal alarm bells. In particular, his attempt to raise the stakes by bringing in something Resado said about Chief State Prosecutor Jovencito Zuno in a phone conversation was shameless.

After much hyping of the phone call, Lazaro then recalled Resado saying, “Pare, delikado, wag tayo sa telepono mag-usap. E kasi si Chief Zuno pumirma, e.” After insinuating proof of wrongdoing, he then said (I am recalling from memory): But I am not insinuating anything.

Santiago is another flawed character. In 2005, he was charged before the Ombudsman with a graft case, based on a military probe alleging that after he had retired as AFP chief of staff he “defrauded the government” by depositing an P8-million check in his personal account. I do not know what happened to the case, which his successor Gen. Efren Abu had announced. I can find no further reference to it.

What about Marcelino? He remains unsullied by all the back and forth, a good man trying to do his best in a sordid though necessary job. But he strikes me as Ruben Guinolbay redux: The Scout Ranger captain emerged a hero from the Lamitan siege, but his personal bravery could not mask the reality that, in Lamitan, the Armed Forces suffered one of the worst debacles in its history.

* * *

Ulama summit. The 2nd National Ulama Summit (at the Imperial Palace Suites in Quezon City) started last night and ends on Thursday, Jan. 29. As an e-mail from the tireless Amina Rasul promises, the summit of religious leaders and scholars will launch the first-ever national federation of ulama organizations in the Philippines.

Yuchengco conference. The Sixth Secretary Alfonso Yuchengco Policy Conference, set for Monday, Feb. 2 at the Renaissance Makati City, promises a thoroughgoing discussion of the “global financial crisis” and its impact on the Philippines. Bangko Sentral Gov. Amando Tetangco Jr. is the keynote speaker, at 10 in the morning.


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One response to “Column: Drugged (or, PDA for PDEA)

  1. Pingback: The Explainer: The blueprint for the ‘War on Drugs’ » Manuel L. Quezon III

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