DRUG-FREE. Southern Leyte officials led by Governor Christopher Yap (right) receives the certificate from Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency Director General Aaron Aquino declaring the province as drug-free. (Photo courtesy of Maasin city government)

MAASIN CITY — Southern Leyte on Tuesday was declared as a drug-cleared province, the first in the Visayas to achieve such status.

Southern Leyte, known as the birthplace of President Rodrigo Duterte, is the third province declared as drug-cleared by the Inter-agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs after Batanes in 2016 and Romblon in 2017.

Before the launch of the President’s anti-drug war, there were 462 drug-affected villages in the province, according to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA). The number represented 92 percent of the 500 villages in the entire province.

“Considering that the province has 500 villages, it is not easy to free all areas from illegal drugs, but local officials here have shown their determination to end the problem. We are hopeful that other provinces will replicate the concerted effort of Southern Leyte,” said PDEA Director General Aaron Aquino.

PDEA attributed the achievement to the participation of city, town, and village officials in eliminating the drug menace.

“Noted drug personalities in the province were neutralized during anti-drug operations. Other drug personalities submitted themselves during the anti-drug campaign of the Philippine National Police, thereby leaving their illegal drug activities for good,” Aquino added.

From 2016 to early April 2018, the Philippine National Police (PNP) and PDEA launched 196 anti-drug operations, resulting in the arrest of 159 drug personalities.

One of the highlights of Tuesday’s event was the signing and distribution of drug-cleared certificates for Maasin City and 18 towns in the province.

Aquino led the distribution of certificates at the provincial capitol in a gathering joined by the PNP, PDEA, Department of Health, Presidential Communications Operations Office, local government officials, representatives of some national government agencies, and other stakeholders.

He urged government agencies and local government units to continue the monitoring of cleared areas to maintain the drug-cleared status.

Aquino is upbeat that with the support of local officials, all the 26,000 drug-affected villages nationwide will be free from the drug menace by 2022. (PNA)