De Lima seeks Senate probe on private donations for drug rehab center projects

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Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has called for a Senate inquiry into the private donations for the administration’s planned construction of mega drug rehabilitation centers to avoid a repeat of the controversy hounding the rehab center in Nueva Ecija.

In filing Senate Resolution No. 630, De Lima said the administration’s failure to utilize the mega-drug rehabilitation facility in Fort Magsaysay, Nueva Ecija already raised serious doubts about the effectivity of similar facilities in treating drug addiction.

“There is a need to ensure that the government would not be pouring millions of public funds down the drain with nothing to show for it due to a poorly thought-out rehabilitation program that is merely edifice-centric than people- and community-centric,” she said.

“Without a clear policy behind the utilization of these mega-facilities, we might end up having all these structures that our government maintains without achieving any defined and lasting goals, thereby wasting funds which would have been better appropriated elsewhere,” she added.

As early as April 2017, questions arose as to the practicality of having mega-drug rehabilitation facilities following the construction of a 10,000-bed mega-drug rehabilitation facility in Nueva Ecija funded by a certain Chinese national Huang Rulun.

Health Assistant Secretary Eric Tayag reportedly labelled the project as “impractical” in terms of distance while then Dangerous Drugs Board Chairman Dionisio Santiago called it a “mistake.”

However, last Jan. 17, Communications Secretary Martin Andanar confirmed that the government is drawing up plans with some philanthropists for the construction of two new mega-drug rehabilitation facilities in Visayas and Mindanao.

According to news reports, a billionaire identified as Xu Ming Liang, also known as Jose Kho in the Philippines, already met with Duterte with a pledge to bankroll the costs of the construction of the additional drug rehab centers.

“Although on paper it seems that these facilities are purely funded by donations from foreign donors, (but) in reality, the expenses that have to be incurred to operationalize them do not stop at simply building them, as it would require millions of pesos in taxpayers’ money to staff, supply, and maintain such facilities every single day thereafter,” De Lima pointed out.

In her resolution, she also expressed concern over the conflicting opinions of other government officials on how mega-rehabilitation facilities should be used.

“It appears to betray a disturbing lack of a clear, nationwide and scientific-based direction on the part of the government as to the health, rehabilitative and social aspects of the ongoing War on Drugs,” she noted.

Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque agreed with Santiago’s pronouncement that smaller rehabilitation centers are more effective in addressing the drug problem, while Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III pitched the idea of coming up with a “mega drug enforcement academy” instead of rehabilitation facilities.

According to De Lima, it is the responsibility of the present government to present empirical, scientific and authoritative data to justify the demand for such large and long-term rehabilitation centers in the country.

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