Q & A: Pangasinan 4th District’s Congressman Christopher “Toff” de Venecia sat with media men at his ancestral home at a coastal village in Dagupan City to discuss the war on dangerous drugs aggressively implemented by Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte, his recent privilege speech at the Halls of Congress, and his two proposed bills “Prevention of Drug Use Among High Risk Individuals and For The Rehabilitation of Dangerous Drug Users, Etc.” and “Providing for the Social Reintegration and Monitoring of Rehabilitated Individuals and Appropriating Funds Thereof”.
Excerpts of the interviews transcribed by Northern Watch's Mortz C. Ortigoza:
QUESTION: What is your stand and the four Districts’ congressmen in Pangasinan on the present predicament of Pangasinan First District Congressman Jesus “Boying” Celeste after he was implicated by President Rodrigo Duterte to allegedly coddle drug personalities
TOFF. Pangasinan Congressman Toff de Venecia (2nd from right) answers questions from reporters in a press conference he called recently at his house in Dagupan City. PHOTO: Mortz C. Ortigoza
CONGRESSMAN CHRISTOPHER “TOFF” DE VENECIA: Alam ninyo po hinde pa kami nakapag fellowship ni Congressman. I have my own relationship and fellowship with each of them. I also want to establish a relation to the (Pangasinan) Governor (Amado “Pogi” Espino III) para magtulungan lahat.
It is very unfortunate na nabanggit nga siya (Representative Celeste) ng president pero siya po ang may intelligence (network) that are not available to us (congressmen).
Ironically, never ko pa siya (Celeste) na meet. Sa lahat ng congressmen nanalo from Pangasinan noong campaign hinde ko lang na meet si Congressman Celeste.
It’s very unfortunate; I wish he could weather the storm, of course, the truth.
Q: Do you have any approach to eliminate the proliferation of drugs in your own Barangay Bonuan Binloc where illegal drugs thrived there since time immemorial in terms of notoriety?
A: Nakausap natin si bagong Chief of Police Superintendent Niel Miro at tinutukan po ng mga police ang drugs. Sisiguraduhin niya na masugpo ang drugs dito sa barangay natin. (But) I enjoined him that we are not for summary execution.
Q: What is you alternative to drug prevention implemented by the gung-ho Duterte Administration?
A: We must recognize that the formula embodied in the present efforts to curb drug abuse is not its end-all-be-all. It is only the beginning, as mentioned by my distinguished colleague from AKO-Bicol Party-List. For one, it has been deplored in various media channels as chimerical; perhaps even Quixotic to some extent, citing that there has never been “a successful war on drugs in any country”. But I am a firm believer in the concept of disruption – finding new solutions to old problems.
On the level of the barangay, I call on the immediate convening of the BADAC (Barangay Anti-Drug Council). To be able to solve the drug problem, we must first to know the root of the problem. Therefore, it is important for the BADAC to also collaborate with various sectors like parent-teachers association, health workers, senior citizens, and youth groups, even TODAs (Tricycle Operators and Drivers Associations).
Q: How about the funding for the BADACs?
A: I call on our barangay families to allocate a portion of their Internal Revenue Allotment or IRA for the proliferation of the said body, and for provincial and municipal governments to be vigilant about its implementation.
Q: What is the role of the Department of Health on your endeavor versus narcotics?
A: On the level of health, I call for the establishment and expansion of existing drug rehabilitation centers such as the ones found in Davao, Pangasinan, Cebu, Zamboanga, Albay, Camarines Sur, Iloilo, Negros Occidental and Leyte, among others. These institutions should be able to cater to men, women, and minors who are drug-dependent, making available (at affordable rates or through state subsidy), in-patient services and dormitories for the duration of the treatment, under the keen supervision of the Department of Health.
In Dagupan City, our drug rehabilitation center was set up with a bed capacity of 300 people, through the effort of my father, former Speaker Jose de Venecia, and my mother, former Congresswoman Gina de Venecia. However, even with a bed capacity of 300 people, our rehabilitation center is struggling to accommodate the recent influx of drug dependent patients coming from Regions 1, 2, and the Cordillera Administrative Region. It is only logical that the President’s war against drugs serve as impetus to expand the facility to accommodate in-patient services and dormitories for female drug-users, as well as minors.
Q: Do you have a social reintegration program for the rehabilitation of individuals?
A: One possible sustaining mechanism is the creation of employment and livelihood opportunities for rehabilitated individuals which could also serve as incentive for those undergoing rehabilitation. This can be spearheaded by the DSWD (Department of Social Welfare & Development) in cooperation with DTI (Department of Trade & Industry) and DOLE (Department of Labor & Employment) by coming up with cash-for-work initiatives, skills training programs, as well as strategic partnerships with social cooperatives and social enterprise business. I call on TESDA (Technical Education and Skills Development Authority) to assist the DSWD by utilizing alternative learning systems in capacity-building for said livelihood opportunities. Furthermore, I am enjoining NCCA (National Commission for Culture and the Arts) to provide artistic opportunities for the rehabilitated individual that would cultivate talent and free expression.