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Peace and order council identifies lapses in anti-drug campaign

Kalinga Gov. Jocel Baac, the new chair of the Regional Development Council, last Sunday called for “proper coordination” with government prosecutors to strengthen cases filed against people engaged in the illegal drug trade. 

Baac told members of the Regional Peace and Order Council that drug cases, particularly the production and trafficking of marijuana, remain alarming, yet the crackdown on the menace is  weakened when charges are dismissed by the prosecutor’s office

Director Edgar Apalla of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency agreed with Baac’s view. He cited two instances when suspects in buy-bust operations were released  after the cases were filed with the prosecutor’s office, adding “we wrote the regional state prosecutor about this”.

Such views were in response to the call of RPOC chair, Benguet Gov. Nestor Fongwan for the council to focus on the anti-drug campaign. Presiding over the council’s meeting, Fongwan narrated how then President Arroyo called his attention to the marijuana problem in his province.

Sometimes when cases are filed, “ the problem is with the prosecutor’s office”, Bac said.  

A day after the RPOC meeting, however, the news was on the court dismissal of a case due to lapses on the part of PDEA operatives in a buy-bust operation.

In dismissing the case against three accused, Regional Trial Court Branch 61  Judge Antonio Reyes noted that the signature of a barangay captain was merely affixed as a mere formality to show PDEA complied with procedures.

The barangay chief said he was not a witness to the buy-bust as he was  in Manila when it was supposed to have been conducted. Another punong barangay refused to sign an inventory of the seized items as he was not also present.

“The solicitation of signatures smacks of a cover-up of the non-existent buy-bust operation to the detriment of the people of Baguio,” the court said.

To help strengthen the prosecution of cases, the RPOC decided to tap the regional state prosecutor as a member of the council and to update it on drug cases filed within the Cordillera until last Dec. 31.

Informed that Kalinga and Apayao provinces are served by the regional state prosecutor in Cagayan Valley while the rest of the Cordillera are under the office in Region 1, the RPOC will ask the Department of Justice to assign a regular Cordillera state prosecutor.

Pending such assignment, the body asked for the designation of an officer-in-charge to sit as member of the peace and order council.

Baac said marijuana cultivation in the Cordillera persists because of the lack of irrigation systems in the provinces that, otherwise, would allow rice farming.

The observation recalls a plan of then Ifugao Rep. Solomon Chungalao to file a bill legalizing limited marijuana farming for scientific purposes which was immediately shot down by his colleagues in Congress.

Chungalao later explained his proposal was actually to draw attention of the national government to the poverty gripping the people of the Cordillera.

“I wanted bring to the fore the fact that 80 to 90 percent of people languishing in jail for marijuana production or trafficking are my fellow Cordillerans,” Chungalao said. “This is because of the national government’s neglect of this naturally rich region, the resources of which had been tapped for national development.”

These years of neglect of the country’s resource base leaves the Cordillera with no alternative but to push for autonomy, according to Baguio mayor Mauricio Domogan.

He said autonomy would allow the national government to provide support over and above what it can legally do under an administrative set-up.

Domogan has been designated by the RDC to head a committee to conduct consultations and draft an organic act – the third in 23 years – for self-rule and national subsidy for  a mountainous region where poverty triggers marijuana production and trade.

 
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