Alvarez urges Asean lawmakers to emulate war on drugs
Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez on Wednesday urged Southeast Asian lawmakers to support antinarcotics campaigns like President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs, as he expressed concern over the region becoming a major transshipment hub for illegal drugs.
Alvarez asked parliamentarians from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) to show “political will and cooperation” in their countries’ campaigns against narcotics, saying the 10-member bloc could not afford to ignore the adverse effects of illegal drugs on the Asean community.
Speaking at the opening of a meeting of the Asean Inter-Parliamentary Assembly (Aipa) in Pasay City, Alvarez recalled Mr. Duterte’s call for unity among Southeast Asian leaders to deal with the drug menace during the 30th Asean summit hosted by the Philippines earlier this year.
“I take this opportunity to urge you to do the same. With political will and cooperation, we will dismantle the massive illegal drug trade apparatus,” said Alvarez, the incumbent Aipa president.
“Drug trafficking has remained a major security concern in the Asean community,” he said.
“Worse, the region has become a major transshipment hub for illegal drugs by transnational organized crime groups to meet the demand of an increasingly growing international market for illegal drugs,” he said.
Thousands of people have been killed in police operations and vigilante-style attacks since Mr. Duterte launched his war on drugs more than a year ago.
The killings have drawn concerns from the United States, European Union and United Nations over human rights violations in the Philippines, but the country’s Asean neighbors have been supportive under the noninterference policy of the regional bloc.
Impact on society
“We cannot ignore the impact of drug use on society—especially [on] the family and the youth,” Alvarez said, citing financial difficulties and other challenges families could face if members became drug addicts.
Alvarez cited the Asean community’s initial moves to face the problem with the adoption last year of the Asean Work Plan on Securing Communities against Illicit Drugs 2016-2025.
“As legislators, we support this vision by introducing measures that could strengthen mechanisms to stop the production, trafficking and abuse of illicit drugs in our countries,” Alvarez said.
He also urged Aipa member-states to enhance cooperation in law enforcement and the criminal justice system, raise awareness and educate all sectors of society, especially the youth, and engage local communities, schools and the media to support the realization of a drug-free Southeast Asia.
The Aipa secretary general, Isra Sunthornvut, thanked the Philippines for hosting the meeting and urged legislative bodies in the region to combine their efforts to combat the drug menace.
At the same meeting, Surigao del Norte Rep. Robert Ace Barbers, the chair of the House committee on dangerous drugs, challenged his fellow Asean lawmakers to take bolder steps in battling illegal drugs.
“I say it is time to take bold, courageous steps, and to bring more of our collective weight into forging a tighter, more decisive collaboration against illegal drugs,” he said, as he accepted the chairmanship of the Aipa committee meeting.
“In so doing, the world will again witness the tenacity of the Asean spirit, our unity of purpose and our leadership in Asia,” Barbers said.
He said Asean’s joint effort in fighting illegal drugs dated back to the signing of the Asean Declaration of Principles to Combat the Abuse of Narcotic Drugs in Manila in 1976.
“Today it is time for our group to reach deeply into our collective conscience and wrestle with this question: Are we going to move forward and step up our game?” he said.
“Should we continue to just be a fact-finding body or should we contribute more meaningfully and decisively to free our region from the scourge of illegal drugs?” he said.
Presenting the Philippine report on its drug campaign at the meeting, Deputy Speaker Raneo Abu cited a “substantial drop” in the narcotics trade as well as the crime rate in the wake of Mr. Duterte’s war on drugs.
The Batangas lawmaker said that less than a year since Mr. Duterte assumed office, the government had dismantled nine illegal drug laboratories, seized about P13 billion worth of crystal meth (shabu), and sequestered around P19 billion worth of drug-trade-related evidence.
More than 1.3 million drug users have voluntarily surrendered and are undergoing rehabilitation and reintegration into the community, he said.
After 62,751 police operations and the surrender of 1,306,389 drug users, Abu said the crime rate had decreased by 28.57 percent./rga
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