BY GILBERT P. BAYORAN
The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency said yesterday that 222 out of 601 barangays of Negros Occidental, or equivalent to 36.94 percent, have been declared drug-cleared.
But Governor Eugenio Jose Lacson, who attended the anti-drug summit yesterday at the Negros Residences in Bacolod City, noted that this is “very low” compared to the 90 percent of Iloilo barangays declared drug-free.
PDEA also reported that 12 of the 61 barangays of Bacolod City were also cleared of the drug menace.
PDEA-6 assistant regional director, Donelyn Hemedez, blamed the Covid-19 pandemic on the low number of drug-cleared barangays in Negros Occidental, despite the many barangays applying for evaluation.
Hemedez said that PDEA agents stationed in Negros Occidental were prohibited from entering barangays, especially those on total lockdown, because of the threats of the pandemic, while 10 of their personnel also got infected while performing their tasks.
“We have to balance their health and their mandate,” she said.
Since the number of Covid-19 cases has decreased, Hemedez said they visited eight towns and cities in Negros Occidental to discuss parameters with barangay officials on how to be included in the list of drug-cleared barangays.
She also said PDEA already increased the number of its agents to help in the barangay drug-clearing operations, and she said she expects that more personnel are coming to Negros as soon as they finish their training.
While he is not inclined to believe that barangay officials did nothing about the anti-drug campaign during the pandemic, Lacson said he is looking forward to promising steps to improve the standing of Negros Occidental in the clearing of at least 70 percent of the province’s barangays, or until everyone is cleared of the menace.
The Provincial Anti-Drug Summit was jointly spearheaded by the Department of Interior and Local Government, Philippine National Police, PDEA, departments of Health, Justice, and Social Welfare and Development, Liga ng mga Barangay Negros Occidental chapter, and the Provincial Anti-Drug Abuse Council.
Lacson said he hopes that the outcome and resolutions during the anti-drug summit will bring about a drug-free Negros Occidental, made possible by the collective knowledge, expertise, dedication, commitment, and firm resolve of the participants. “Let us start this summit with the same purpose and determination, that for the sake of our people and our children, we are going to make good of this avenue, to fully explore and discuss all possibilities, and the most effective strategies, to eradicate the use and trade of illegal drugs in the province,” he added.*