By N.A. Rodriguez Jr.
The province of Apayao has just been declared as “Drug-Free” during the celebration of its 22nd Founding Anniversary on February 13, 2017 in the town of Kabugao.
Siblings Lone District Representative Eleanor Bulut-Begtang and Governor Elias C. Bulut Jr. as well as the regional directors of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Marlo L. Iringan, Philippine National Police (PNP) Gen. Elmo Francis O. Sarona and National Police Commission (NAPOLCOM) Editha S. Puddoc led the formal declaration ceremonies at the packed Kabugao Municipal Gymnasium.
Vice Governor Remy Albano and members of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan were also present after adopting Resolution No. 12 (series 2017) declaring Apayao as drug-cleared authored by SP Mailah Haydee L. Ballesteros.
The resolution explained that this is in compliance of a request made by the Apayao Provincial Police Office (APPO) with the mandate of the national leadership to fight and eradicate the illegal drug problem in the entire country along with supporting documents such as declarations from drug-infected barangays that their areas are already cleared of the illegal drug menace.
Gen. Sarona, who was the keynote speaker, commended Apayao from a modest to becoming a dynamic province and thriving to unleash its full economic potential.
Sarona said that being a drug-free province is another milestone in the rich history of Apayao.
He lauded the swift action of the provincial and municipal leadership, the cooperation of the people, NGOs and civil society and the moral ascendancy from their ranks over the huge task.
Sarona said that they have conducted drug test to all police officers and nobody turned positive.
He said that they have initially estimated over a thousand individuals affected in 184 barangays but upon the implementation of Oplan Tokhang in Cordillera, the figures have skyrocketed to 21,000 drug personalities from 815 barangays.
In Apayao, the initial estimate was 23 individuals in 19 barangays but after Tokhang, there were 1,177 dependents in 102 barangays.
In the municipality of Flora alone, over 230 persons voluntarily surrendered and admitted to using “shabu” (methamphetamine hydrochloride) during the height of the government’s serious campaign and express willingness to submit themselves to rehabilitation program.
Sarona said that despite the recent scandal in the PNP, they want to continue to manifest their commitment in the eradication of illegal drugs in the region. “We were caught flat-footed by these but now we are here to celebrate victory against illegal drugs,” Sarona told the huge crowd.
Bulut-Begtang said she hesitated at first that Apayao be declared drug-free because she is afraid that drug syndicates may take the opportunity to resume operations but said that upon hearing the message from the provincial director there is reason to accept.
For his part, Gov. Bulut said the provincial government is proud of the accomplishment of the PNP and the local government leaders and barangay officials for their cooperation.
He said that the unity among political leaders is now known as the pride of Apayao as compared to neighboring provinces.
The governor said that because of sincerity to serve the people and careful planning, Apayao hade uplifted its standing from the second poorest several years back to its present fifth place in the list of poorest provinces in the country.
Also present to witness the signing by Gov. Bulut of the Resolution which was placed in a big billboard were mayors, vice mayors and members of the Sangguniang Bayan from the seven municipalities namely Calanasan, Conner, Flora, Kabugao, Luna, Pudtol and Sta. Marcela. (This article was first published in the LGU Section of MANILA STANDARD on Feb. 21, 2017 by same author. http://manilastandard.net/sunday-lgu-section-pdf/luzon/229852/apayao-declared-drug-free-province.html)