Wed, Jan 14, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Philippine president names herself chief in war on drugs

AFP , MANILA

Philippine President Gloria Arroyo named herself as the country’s anti-drugs chief yesterday, saying she needed to step in to save the judicial system from being corrupted by narcotics traffickers.

Arroyo has ordered five state prosecutors to go on leave as the government probes claims they were offered bribes to dismiss complaints against alleged traffickers arrested last year in sting operations around Manila.

“Governments that delay action against illegal drugs or regard it as a routine police matter, do so at their own peril,” Arroyo told the Cabinet.

“A country awash with illegal drugs is a country compromised, its law and order institutions tainted and corrupted,” she said.

Arroyo said her government would push for an “unyielding and unrelenting war” against drugs.

“I will temporarily act as czar, or overseer, of the war against illegal drugs,” Arroyo said, adding that the campaign would include boosting law enforcement and prosecution.

The state prosecutors ordered to take leave are alleged to have sought to free three traffickers in return for millions of pesos (tens of thousands of dollars) in bribes.

Drug enforcement agents testified to a congressional inquiry against the prosecutors last week.

The US government has identified the Philippines as a major Asian transit point for drugs, including methamphetamines, heroin and ecstasy party pills.

Independent crime watchdogs say that while Manila in theory has among the region’s toughest drug laws — prescribing life in jail for traffickers —- law enforcement agencies are hobbled by corruption.

Manila police chief Leopoldo Bataoil said methamphetamine hydrochloride, also known as “ice,” remained the illegal drug of choice in Manila, a metropolis of 12 million people, but that “ecstasy” was gaining popularity among the young upper classes.

“At present, [ice] is still the most preferred drug of abuse in the metropolis, followed by marijuana,” he said.

“Ecstasy is believed to be circulating in bars and night joints frequented by affluent young adults,” Bataoil said.

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