By Saul Hofileña Jr.
February 25, 2023
LAST year, Benjamin "Benhur" Abalos Jr. was appointed as secretary of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG). President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. could not have chosen a better person for that sensitive portfolio. At age 60, Benhur has shown that he is a public servant par excellence; he gives politicians a good name.
He began his career in public service as a city councilor of Mandaluyong from 1995 to 1998, after which he was expected to run for city mayor. Instead, he launched his candidacy for the House of Representatives for the lone district of Mandaluyong. He was a lawmaker from 2004 to 2007. Then, Benhur left the halls of Congress and ran for city mayor; he was the hizzoner of Mandaluyong City for five terms, from 1998 to 2004; 2007 to 2016.
The achievements of this young public servant did not go unnoticed, so former president Rodrigo Duterte appointed him to head the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) after the untimely demise of Gen. Danilo Lim. From 2021 to 2022, he was chairman of this multifunctional agency. During more than 365 days at the helm, Benhur Abalos did his utmost to protect us from the deadly Covid-19 pandemic. He launched the "Vax as One" program in cooperation with mayors of the National Capital Region. He implemented flood mitigation measures and traffic reduction initiatives. I hope the current MMDA chairman is continuing Benhur's "Mobile Materials Recovery Facility" and the "Takakura" composting system, which was designed for communities in Metro Manila.
During his tenure, Mandaluyong won the United Nations Public Service Award. The award cited the city's "outstanding achievement in serving the public interest."
He was also the president of the League of Cities of the Philippines and the only mayor who became the president of the Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines (ULAP), garnering local and national awards. (ULAP consists of the leagues of governors, vice governors, mayors, provincial board members, barangay captains and of the Sangguniang Kabataan.)
After his appointment as top gun of the DILG, Secretary Benhur Abalos hit the ground running, so to speak. Using his lawyer's skills to the hilt, he interviewed the assassin of a radio commentator and managed to voluntarily extract from the self-confessed killer the names of other persons involved, from co-conspirators, accomplices and accessories.
This year, the Philippine National Police under the DILG executed the biggest drug bust in Philippine history, involving P6.7 billion worth of shabu, which eventually led to the arrest of several persons.
Now, pay close attention while I tell you why we should all help in purging the drug scourge. Methamphetamine hydrochloride, also known as poor man's cocaine or shabu, may soon give way to illicit fentanyl, which is 50 times more potent than shabu or heroine. It is now the number one cause of death of Americans ages 18 to 45. Eighteen state attorneys general have likened illicit fentanyl to a weapon of mass destruction. It is the opioid that is filling hospital emergency rooms and morgues in the United States.
Due to his relentless drive, Benhur has deliberately placed himself in the line of fire of the ultra-dangerous war on drugs. He is compelled to clean the ranks of the police and military. I watched him on television as he asked all colonels and generals to submit their courtesy resignations; it was obvious that he did it with a heavy heart because by nature he is a compassionate person. He could very well have given orders to make heads roll.
It appears to me that the policy of this administration is not to shoot-to-kill suspected drug lords and couriers, but to effect arrests and apprehensions, submit these people to inquest or preliminary investigations and thereafter turn over their cases to the courts. Elimination of the drug problem is not being achieved through naked firepower.
This national methodology not only reduces the supply of illicit drugs, but demand is also reduced because drug dependents are being sent to rehabilitation centers with the hope of reformation.
So, let us help this guy Benhur enforce this administration's version of the war on drugs. He has passed muster in the art of governance, and the path he has chosen to tread is fraught with danger 24/7; it is Darwinian — the struggle of the fittest.
Benhur read history and political science at the De La Salle University; he was at the Ateneo College of Law when I met him. Always an exemplary student leader, he was a member of the Ateneo Student Council from his freshman to his senior year. He was also a lecturer at the University of the Philippines.
He is a man haunted by personal tragedies. A beloved daughter preceded him to the grave. Ironically enough, she died of food poisoning after she joined a feeding program in a slum area. His mother contracted Covid-19 and died of severe sepsis. Benhur himself was stricken with the deadly virus several times while he was MMDA chairman.
To the courageous anti-drug warrior, I send this message: Fortes fortuna adiuvat — Fortune favors the brave.