Vice President Maria Leonor Robredo.

It is too early to say what changes will happen in the government’s anti-narcotics campaign now that Vice President Leni Robredo has been appointed as co-chair of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (ICAD).

She has not even started her job but her critics have already predicted her failure to stop the drug menace and some law enforcement officials advised hto take a more active role in the anti-illegal drugs advocacy and rehabilitation aspect because she has no experience in police work.

In the last three years, President Rodrigo Duterte’s “shock and awe” drug war has not produced the desired result of eliminating the country’s drug problem by cutting the illegal drugs supply and reducing demand by initiating an all-government approach.

Duterte’s “search and destroy” formula has only produced dead bodies in the slum communities in the capital and nearby provinces as well as in other parts of the country, like Cebu and Davao cities. Based on the Philippine National Police (PNP) records, close to 6,000 drug peddlers and users have been killed in almost identical police anti-illegal drugs operations – a buy-bust operation that ends up in a shootout between drug suspects and undercover police officers.

More than 3,000 illegal drug personalities were also killed in gang-like executions, most of them found with placards “Huwag tularan: Pusher and heads wrapped in packaging tape, hands and feet bound by rope or duct tapes and left in vacant lots or near creeks and garbage dumps.

The success of the government’s war on illegal drugs should not be measured by body counts. The late dictator Ferdinand Marcos’ efforts to defeat a Maoist-led insurgency in the 1970s and 1980s were largely based on body counts as soldiers hunted down Communist New People’s Army (NPA) guerrillas in “search and destroy” operations in the countryside.

There were some instances when people from local communities were massacred by soldiers in retaliation for losing some personnel in ambuscades that happened near the farming communities, like the 1987 Lupao massacre in Nueva Ecija.

The military has learned a lot from past anti-insurgency campaigns and senior officers who had obtained master’s degrees at the National Defense College of the Philippines (NDCP) have studied many models in fighting a protracted guerrilla warfare from the countryside. They were taught that the rebellion can be defeated by a civilian-led holistic approach, removing the root causes of the insurgency, like poverty, injustice, inequality, neglect, ignorance and discrimination.

In the same way, police operations alone will not solve the problem on illegal drugs. The burden of the anti-illegal drugs campaign must fall heavily on the shoulders of the civilian government agencies, particularly to local government officials who know better the communities they serve.

In the last three years, the barangay – the basic unit of government – have only played a minor role in the anti-illegal drugs campaign by providing intelligence and initially drawing up a list of drug personalities in the communities. Then, the police take over in chasing these personalities, many of them ending up in body bags.

In the first six months of the anti-illegal drugs campaign, the police said more than 100 people were killed in a week of police operations, tarnishing the country’s image in the international community by violating due process and respect of human dignity and rights. Some countries have distanced themselves from the government’s war on illegal drugs while some were half-hearted in support Duterte’s war because they were afraid of backlash from their own constituents.

Thus, Robredo’s first priority is to soften the brutal and violent anti-illegal drug campaign by putting to a stop the senseless killings of innocent civilians. She did not say the bloody campaign would end, but any form of violence must be justified.

In the past, most buy-bust operations resulted in shootouts. Police said undercover cops were only defending themselves from illegal drugs suspects who had pulled out a hand gun after sensing they were transacting business with the police. But, in most encounters, no police officers were killed or wounded and some of the slain suspects had gunshot wounds not consistent with a shootout. Some were shot at close range as evidenced by tattooing marks on the wounds. The trajectory of the bullets suggested the victims were kneeling or lying down.

One such example was the killing of Kian delos Santos in Caloocan on August 16, 2017. The public reaction to the schoolboy’s death led to the conviction of three policemen more than a year later. It was a rare victory for a victim of a staged police anti-illegal drugs operations and Kian’s case is not an exception, but rather a rule in the thousands of deaths, which are considered to be extra-judicial killings.

Any death not sanctioned by the state is considered a case of extra-judicial killing, especially after the government of then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo repealed the death penalty legislation re-imposed under the presidency of Fidel Ramos.

Many of the buy-bust operations did not follow police procedures. In most cases, police barged into the homes of illegal drugs suspects without proper search or arrest warrants. In some cases, police have not filed pre-operations nor post-operations reports. And in a few cases, police turned off CCTV cameras and even asked family members to get out their houses before shooting drug personalities in what they say were shootouts.

Robredo has a tough job. She has to end this practice. There must be solid proof that an illegal drug peddler really fired a gun to justify the necessary response from law enforcers.

Putting an end to staged shootouts is necessary. In the end, she can claim she has succeeded in her anti-illegal drugs job. Well, the drug problem will remain but she can put an end to the senseless killings.