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By James Steven Batucan

Under Villanueva’s vigilant leadership, PDEA posted impressive numbers in the war on drugs.

In government service, as in life in general, things important or valued could only stay for a definite period of time. Such is the case with Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency’s (PDEA) seventh Director General Wilkins Villanueva, who has gone back to private life.

Villanueva, a graduate of the Philippine Military Academy’s (PMA) Maringal Class of 1988, served as head of the country’s lead drug enforcement agency for two-and-a-half years. Within this period, the PDEA agents successfully enforced the country’s antidrug laws and programs while maintaining the agency’s integrity. He attributes his success to the PMA’s core values of courage, integrity, and loyalty. These values that shaped him and made him the man he is today served as his motivation, allowing him to overcome obstacles while serving PDEA.

It was President Rodrigo Roa Duterte who appointed him as PDEA chief on May 22, 2020. His appointment as PDEA’s 7th director general was, for him, a recognition of his dedication and sacrifices for the country.

Villanueva remembers his oathtaking as the agency’s seventh director general as a moment of crowning glory. “Ito kasi ‘yung ultimate dream ng lahat ng (This is the ultimate dream of all) drug enforcement officers, to be at the helm of the country’s lead agency in the fight against illegal drugs.”


Villanueva’s humble roots did not prevent him from dreaming big. He worked and studied hard, receiving his elementary education in public schools and completing high school at a Catholic school in Mindanao. He then studied at the University of Santo Tomas (UST) in Manila for two years before joining the PMA.

His first assignment as a member of the Philippine Constabulary (PC), now the Philippine National Police (PNP), was in Northern Mindanao, when the insurgency was at its peak. Villanueva’s first combat experience was in Misamis Oriental where there was no potable water and electricity available to the community. He was reassigned to Southern Mindanao’s Police Regional Office 11 in 1995. After steadily moving up the ranks, Villanueva was appointed as commanding officer of the 11th Regional Mobile Force’s first Special Action Force Company, which at the time was in charge of counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations for the entire Region 11. In 2001, he was transferred to the PNP Narcotics Group and was designated as the Regional Officer of the 11th Regional Narcotics Office. When PDEA was created in 2002, Villanueva was one of those chosen to lead the fledgling agency and was assigned to lead various PDEA regional offices, before finally being appointed to the agency’s highest post in 2020.


Through his watchful leadership, Villanueva developed and spearheaded various programs for PDEA.

“We are now moving on what we call the Barangay Drug Clearing Program or BDCP,” he mentions when asked about the ongoing programs of the agency. The BDCP embodies the whole-of-nation approach in addressing drug problems by enlisting the participation of various government agencies and private stakeholders in the national anti-drug campaign. Another program is the community-based Balay Silangan Reformation Program that rehabilitates drug surrenderees across the country. The program offers temporary shelter to drug offenders with the aim of reforming them into self-sufficient and lawabiding members of society. As the program is reformatory in nature, it is an alternative intervention to drug personalities who are not users and not eligible to undergo medical treatment and rehabilitation in facilities supervised by the Department of Health (DOH).

The Community-Based Drug Rehabilitation Program (CBRP), on the other hand, is a consolidated model of treatment in the community with services ranging from general intervention to relapse prevention. The program involves the coordination of various services which involve counseling and therapy sessions.

Villanueva says that prosecuting a drug offender is not enough to gauge the success of the war against illegal drugs. After successful prosecution, rehabilitation is the next crucial step for the justice system to work. “This is different from the sellers and buyers, or users of illegal drugs. On one side, you may have persons trying to make ends meet and were just lured into the drug trade to gain some profit. On the other side, you may have users who may have experimented with drug use out of peer pressure, or who may be burdened with problems at home and have turned to drugs as the way of trying to escape. Motivations vary from one offender to another, and our rehabilitation centers try to adapt to the needs of those who seek help,” he explains. As for those incarcerated for drug offenses, the government has a separate institution, the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor), which is mandated to rehabilitate persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) and guide them back on the path to becoming productive members of society once they have completed their respective sentences. “Being the head of PDEA is not an easy job, as you are exposed to the effects of dangerous drugs on individuals, families, and communities. But it’s also a life-changing experience when you see individuals reformed from drug use or drug abuse,” Villanueva shares.

“Ang gusto ko ‘yung feeling na may magulang na dadalaw sa opisina kasama ‘yung kanilang anak na nagbago at gumanda ang kanilang mga buhay dahil sa mga intervention program ng ating pamahalaan (I like the feeling when a parent visits the office with their reformed child, and their lives have changed because of the government’s intervention programs),” says Villanueva. VIllanueva’s passion for helping others became his main driving force and motivation to get out of bed every single day as he served the country for almost three decades. The sense of fulfillment in helping others has made his life happier and more meaningful. “It warms my heart to see people’s lives transformed and people returning to their communities as a result of the government programs we put in place,” he adds.


PDEA works from the grassroots through the barangays. They closely assess a barangay according to following five pointers for it to be declared free from illegal drug activities. First, there should be no drugs, no supply of drugs in the barangay. Second, there should be no drug den, no drug pusher, or no drug users. Third, there should be no illegal drug factories or clandestine drug laboratories. Fourth, there should be an active involvement of barangay officials in antidrug activities. Fifth, there should be drug awareness, preventive education and information, and a Voluntary and Compulsory Drug Treatment and Rehabilitation Processing desk. “Each of the 17 regions of the country has its own Regional Oversight Committee on Barangay Drug Clearing or ROCBDC. They are responsible for declaring a barangay as drug-cleared or drug-free after satisfying those parameters,” Villanueva adds. The oversight committee is headed by a chairperson, who is the PDEA regional director or his representative, with jurisdiction over the barangay. The vice-chair is the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) regional director or his representative. The oversight committee members are representatives from the PNP, DOH, and the local government unit (LGU). Depending on the result of assessment and validation, the oversight committee will either issue a certification declaring drugcleared status for the barangay in question or submit its findings in case one or more parameters are not satisfied. If a certificate of drug-cleared status is issued, it must be attested to by the chairperson of the oversight committee, the city or municipal drug abuse council, and the chief of police, and validated by the PDEA regional director.

With the LGU as the microcosm of where the government programs are felt by the people, the PDEA regional and provincial offices offer frontline services for the communities. Much of the data needed for validating that barangays are drug-affected come from LGUs. In return, LGUs are empowered and supported by PDEA.


Under Villanueva’s vigilant leadership, PDEA posted impressive numbers in the war on drugs. For instance, for the period of May 31 to September 30, 2022, there were 406 elected public officials, 127 members of the uniformed services, 544 other government officials, and 1,066 high-value targets arrested by the agency. Latest data also reveal that from 20,046 drug-affected barangays, only 10,012 remain. The PDEA, under Villanueva’s leadership, cleared 25,361 barangays in the whole Philippines. In addition, more than 298,772 drug addicts have been rehabilitated. These are from barangays that asked for help from the government in dealing with their drug problems. “So, in short, our anti-drug campaign encompasses the whole facets and sectors of our nation. Mayaman ka man, mahirap ka man, may kakayahan ka man o wala, basta gumalaw ka at nakipaglaro ka sa ilegal na droga, hahabulin ka ng ating gobyerno (The government will pursue you regardless of your social standing, whether you are rich or poor, as long as you are involved in illegal drugs), particularly the PDEA,” declares Villanueva.


Like all other law enforcement agencies in the country, PDEA is not free from issues hounding the organization and the integrity of its personnel. The mishap between PDEA agents and PNP men on February 24, 2021, along Commonwealth Avenue, Quezon City, was a major blow that happened under Villanueva’s administration. Four people —a PDEA agent, two PNP officers, and an informant—lost their lives as a result of the failed buy-bust operation. There have been claims that PDEA members have traded illegal drugs. Unverified reports said that before the PDEA operatives and Quezon City police engaged in

a firefight, the PDEA agents were ready to sell drugs to a target. Villanueva vehemently disputed the accusations and declared that he would resign from his position in the event that closed-circuit television (CCTV) footage would validate allegations of a “sell-bust.” A Senate investigation into the incident came to the conclusion that the “bloody misencounter” was caused by a lack of coordination between the PNP and PDEA.

The incident prompted the PDEA and PNP to develop new guidelines for coordinating operations in order to avoid similar incidents from happening in the future. The agency has also received some major backlash and criticism from people, with a handful believing that only the rich are accorded due process, while poor suspects are killed summarily, a belief heightened by incidents under the previous administration’s war on drugs.

“Nakakapanghina, kasi ‘yung sinabi ko nga na ‘yung isang paa namin nasa hukay (It’s very disheartening to hear this, because as I’ve said, we always put our lives on the line every time we are out on service), and yet [some people] see the campaign as a politicized campaign. The anti-drug campaign of the government is for all, not only for the poor people who have been caught or killed,” asserts Villanueva, assuring the integrity of the agency. Villanueva also states that the agency does not tolerate anyone when it comes to illegal drugs regardless of status in life. In fact, prior to Villanueva’s retirement, PDEA agents apprehended the son of a ranking government official in an anti-drug operation.


For Villanueva, serving for two decades in the fight against illegal drugs under three presidents— Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Benigno Aquino III, and Duterte—is more than enough to show that he served and retired from the agency with pride and honor. “We have demonstrated our capability in recent months and years, as evidenced by the large amounts of illegal drugs confiscated and the number of drug offenders arrested and prosecuted. We also assisted many people in making positive changes in their lives,” says

Villanueva with pride. “I am blessed to have been given the opportunity to serve in various capacities from my humble beginnings as a junior officer of the Philippine Constabulary until the transition to the Philippine National Police and eventually hanging my police uniform in favor of a full-time career as one of the pioneering directors of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency,” Villanueva wrote on his Facebook page. Even as Villanueva’s leadership of PDEA comes to an end, the examples he set within the agency will remain as a guiding light in the enforcement of the country’s anti-drug laws.

Editor’s Note: President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. appointed retired Police General Moro Virgilio Lazo as new PDEA Director General in late October. DG Lazo previously headed the PNP Special Action Force.

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