SELF-CONFESSED drug dependent Robert Coronel (not his real name) is holding out even if tens of thousands of people have already turned themselves in to authorities for drug-related offenses.
Coronel, 39, who works as a tricycle driver in Tondo, Manila, is worried that no one will look after his wife and three kids if he surrenders.
For the first time, however, Coronel is also scared for his life, and thinks there’s no choice but to yield to the police amid the deadly campaign against illegal drugs being waged by President Rodrigo Duterte.
“Nakakatakot. Ilan sa amin nahuli na, `yung iba napatay na [It is scary. Some of us have been caught. Some have been killed],” Coronel told The Manila Times in an interview.
Coronel claims to have struggled to overcome his drug addiction, which he labels as a “curse.” He acquired the habit in his late teens.
“Mahirap po talaga kasi sanay na ako. Ayun na po ang buhay na alam ko [It’s hard to quit because I have gotten so used to it. It’s the life that I know],” he said.
The fact that he lives in a community where almost everyone has involvement in the drug trade does not help.
The “change” brought by Duterte, however, may be the opportunity to finally get rid of the curse that has afflicted more than a million drug dependents in the Philippines.
“Ngayon iba na. Mapipilitan kang magbago kung hindi lagot ka kay Duterte [It’s different now. You’re forced to change, if not Duterte will punish you],” Coronel said.
Fear driving surrenderers
Psychologists however caution that some drug dependents may have turned themselves in out of fear, not because of a genuine desire to kick out their habit.
“We can’t really say they are truthful because they want to survive, ” said Milagros Cortez- Arrevillaga, psychology professor at the University of Santo Tomas and a registered guidance counselor.
“It’s different when you say, ‘I want to change and I need help,’” she added.
The current spotlight on drugs also reveals the complicated situation that arises when drug dependency becomes intertwined with poverty.
“Addiction to drugs will spare no one, regardless of age, gender, status and culture. A victim of drugs may start from a strong belief that these drugs are answers to their problems, would make them happier, more complete, and satisfied with their lives,” said Dr. Joseph C. Francisco, a clinical psychologist from TRIAD Psychological Services and St. Luke’s Medical Center in Quezon City.
Cortez-Arrevillaga said poor drug dependents usually took to drugs to forget about their hunger.
“Because when you take drugs, you do not get hungry,” she explained.
Drugs give instant relief, she added. “The problem with instant relief is it leaves behind a mark, and you’ll keep on looking for it,” Cortez-Arrevillaga said.
Authorities have proclaimed the fearsome anti-drug campaign a clear success. In last week’s Senate probe into the growing number of drug related killings, Director General Ronald “Bato” de la Rosa, chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP), said 673,978 drug suspects have yielded nationwide.
Sociologist Clifford Sorita however warns that the large number of surrenderers produced by the fear-driven anti-drug campaign is a sort of success that could backfire, eventually.
“At its core, if you do an act for the wrong reason, you get the wrong results. The genuine act of drug rehabilitation must emanate from a personal desire to change and not just because of fear,” he said in an interview.
“Because in so doing, the road to recovery from drug addiction becomes more effective and transformative,” Sorita added.
Coronel points to the climate of fear and uncertainty that has pervaded his community in Tondo.
It’s hard to distinguish who can and can’t be trusted, he said.
“Parang lahat ng kilos mo may nagbabantay [It’s as if someone’s always watching your every move],” he said.
Merly Tolentino, 65, a laundry woman from Tagaytay City, recounts how his son was arrested a few days after Duterte was sworn in.
Tolentino said her son, a drug dependent, was falsely accused of being a drug trafficker.
“Hindi naman pusher ang anak ko. User siya pero hindi pusher. Tulong ang kailangan niya, hindi dapat siya ikinulong [My son is not a drug pusher. He is a user but not a pusher. He needs help. He shouldn’t have been thrown in jail],” she said.
Tolentino claims her son tried hard to fight off drug dependence, but her family is poor and could not afford to pay for her son’s rehabilitation.
Others, however, have simply been snuffed out.
To date, 756 suspected drug suspects have been killed in police operations nationwide. Worse, 1,160 deaths have been recorded “outside police operations,” likely killings by vigilantes or drug syndicates who want to cover their tracks.
Research by The Manila Times has found that the killings are mostly an urban phenomenon.
Of the 364 cases of deaths outside police operations reviewed by The Manila Times for the period May 10 to
August 26, 36.3 percent occurred in Metro Manila.
Seventy-three deaths were found in Central Visayas, accounting for 20.1 percent of the total number.
Mindanao had the least number of summary killings, with Regions 11, 12, 13 and the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao accounting for only 1.6 percent, 1.4 percent, 0.5 percent and 0.3 percent, respectively, of the total.
Of the reported deaths, suspected drug pushers or users topped the list, followed by people killed with no established motive.
Nearly 18 percent of the people killed were reported as being in police watch lists.
Also killed were alleged police informants, people involved in the anti-illegal drugs campaign, accomplices of drug suspects and those who were accidentally killed.
There were also those who were self-confessed drug users and pushers and those who surrendered to the police, yet were still killed later on.
For Sorita, the government has to look beyond the statistics of surrenderers and killings of drug suspects.
The government’s anti-drug crusade maybe initially effective, but to bring genuine change it has to be integrated with a rehabilitation program, he said.
“A genuine anti-illegal drug campaign must integrate law enforcement with a comprehensive drug rehabilitation program in order to effect real change,” Sorita said.
REICELENE JOY IGNACIO