• Decriminalization of drug use goes beyond Leni Robredo

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    ANTONIO P. CONTRERAS

    HONESTLY, I really pity Leni Robredo. She is now afflicted with a reverse Midas touch syndrome, where she is trashed for anything she touches and says. She is also suffering from a partial Cassandra effect, where she is not taken seriously, even if what she is saying may be the truth, or makes sense.

    When she urged the Duterte government to consider studying the case of Portugal with regard to its policy of decriminalizing drug use, all hell broke loose. What appeared as merely a suggestion on her part to study that policy option took the character of an unwarranted meddling, and the real sense of what she said was lost in translation. And it did not help that she pleaded that she was just misquoted.

    It is so frustrating since this is one of those rare instances that she is in fact making sense. And it was a rare moment when I agreed with her.

    I am not exactly sure how much of the noise is bred by people’s dislike of her. What is certain is that she effectively undermined the value of her policy recommendations not because it is flawed but because it came from her.

    People have jumped to the wrong conclusion that decriminalization is legalization, when in fact technically the two are not necessarily the same.

    It is frustrating that healthy debate has been sidelined, and what has taken over is political partisanship and personality-oriented bashing.

    But the debate on what should be our long-term drug policy should go beyond Leni Robredo, as it must transcend partisan politics. President Duterte has only a little bit over five more years in office, and we should be thinking of a more sustainable policy on how to deal with the drug problem. Evidence suggests that an all-out war on drugs should not and must not rest solely on a hardline approach. Thailand tried an iron-fist policy, but it did not completely eradicate the problem. As it is, President Duterte is in fact already delayed in his time-table, and he admitted that the problem may in fact need more than six months, contrary to what he promised during the campaign.

    The problem is complex. And it will not help if people, in frustration and anger, simplify what is complicated.
    There are many players in the drug trade. There are the dealers and their protectors. There are also the users. There are dealers and protectors who are also users. But there are also users who are not involved in dealing drugs.

    At the outset, it should be emphasized that decriminalizing drug use does not require legalization.

    Instead, the policy option of decriminalizing drug use is a specific strategy that isolates the act and makes it separable from the criminal element of the drug trade. In this policy scenario, only the act of selling drugs, as well as the act profiting from it, are considered criminal. This would therefore include not only the sellers but also their enablers and protectors.

    Drug use becomes criminal only when the user is involved in other crimes, such as theft, rape and murder. Drug possession becomes prima facie evidence for a crime only when the possessor is a trader and not just a user.
    Social media, triggered by Leni Robredo’s suggestion to consider decriminalization, erupted in a cacophony of voices that missed the fact that our policy environment already has decriminalized drug use in some instances.

    Even the President’s anti-drug war campaign has reflected this, which is why drug rehabilitation centers are being built, and funds are earmarked to integrate drug rehabilitation in the activities of the LGUs, and of health and social welfare departments.

    Even the courts have integrated rehabilitation into their procedures. Drug users who voluntarily submit to the court just undergo a special proceeding that is not criminal in nature, and hence no criminal record attaches to them. Instead, they are just directed to undergo mandatory rehabilitation.

    Drug users who are caught in police operations, but are found to be mere users, and are first-time offenders, and are not involved in other crimes, undergo a criminal proceeding. However, they do not serve jail terms like ordinary criminals, but are instead ordered by the court to undergo rehabilitation.

    In the workplace, some private companies deal with drug use among their employees not as offenses, but as a health issue. Hence, instead of punitive measures, the employees are sent for rehabilitation treatment, the cost of which may even be shouldered by the company.

    Thus, it is clear that de facto decriminalization of drug use is already operational in some instances.

    What can be drawn from Leni Robredo’s suggestion, to which I concur despite my fundamental differences with her on many other matters, is for us to study and seriously consider how to further institutionalize this in our drug policy.

    It must also be emphasized that decriminalization of drug use is not designed to negate the criminal nature of the drug trade. After all, rehabilitation of drug users is not in any way contradictory to inflicting on the traders and their enablers the full weight of the law, which even if I oppose it, may include the death penalty, if and when Congress will reinstate it.

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    22 Comments

    1. M. Salvador on

      How can any of these commenters opposed to decriminalization and/or legalization ignore the fact that Alcohol is legal and rampant in the Philippines – far worse than Shabu and then completely ignore the fact that the all natural Cannabis plant is treated the same as Shabu?

      First, Filipinos are ( or should be ) free to ingest whatever they want in their bodies…as long as it hurts no one else. Secondly, Cannabis (Marijuana) is not toxic and is in fact used medically all over the world and has been used for over 5,000 years but again, its treated like Shabu or Heroin while Alcohol is widely accepted, encouraged, marketed legally, its health threats completely ignored.

      Portugal has indeed nearly completely solved their drug problems with decriminalization. The USA has legalized Cannabis in 30 out of 50 States for Medicinal use and 6 States have completely legalized it with near zero problems.

      If the leaders of the Philippines were smart, they would have legalized all use of Cannabis ( and ONLY Cannabis ) and opened Marijuana Cafes like they did in Amsterdam and the influx of tourists would have made the Philippines richer per capita than China. But, Philippines elected an idiot for president who doesn’t know the difference between a Cannabis plant and an .45 pistol. and the press is just as ignorant.

      Education – it is there for a reason.

      • Alcohol is far worse than shabu? Marijuana Cafes like in Amsterdam? How would you feel when you see your daughter smoking weeds with her classmates on that cafe? Or going on a pot session instead of coming to school? Oh, how about skipping family dinner or Sunday family mass, because she chose to smoke weeds with her friends instead? Exactly, a dysfunctional family. Clearly, you have never been to the States and Amsterdam to know this side of story. Seems like you are the one that badly needs an education. Better late than never.

    2. If Leni is a lawyer she should have known that drug use is not punishable by imprisonment but by REHABILITATION. Her suggestion is already covered by section 15, RA No. 9165. Her idea is not new. It was considered by the framers of the law.

      To my mind she is guilty of gr0ss ign0rance of law. She should be a$hamed of herself for criticising the government which has long implemented what she was suggesting. As a matter of fact the law even distinguished between first and the nth time offenders. RA 9165 thus provides:

      Section 15. Use of Dangerous Drugs. – A person apprehended or arrested, who is found to be positive for use of any dangerous drug, after a confirmatory test, shall be imposed a penalty of a minimum of six (6) months rehabilitation in a government center for the first offense, subject to the provisions of Article VIII of this Act. If apprehended using any dangerous drug for the second time, he/she shall suffer the penalty of imprisonment ranging from six (6) years and one (1) day to twelve (12) years and a fine ranging from Fifty thousand pesos (P50,000.00) to Two hundred thousand pesos (P200,000.00): Provided, That this Section shall not be applicable where the person tested is also found to have in his/her possession such quantity of any dangerous drug provided for under Section 11 of this Act, in which case the provisions stated therein shall apply.

      To my mind Leni is making senseless criticism here and there if only to impress. Sad to say she is failing mi$erably.

    3. The suggestion of VP is somewhat with basis, it was really introduced in some european countries and it was proven to be effective, the illegal drug abuse was considered as health issues rather than crime issues, those people found using the illegal drugs were brought for treatment to rehabilitation centers rather than in detention centers, they were given a chance to reform, it was proven to reduce the crime rates and reduce the rates on illegal abuse of dangerous drugs…it was already practice in new zealand, netherland, uk and some other parts of the world….tokhang was patterned with columbian police anti narcotics operation but it was a total failure, it was also done in mexico, but instead of curving the crimes it created more monsters out of it, the children of those summarily killed drug lords became more violent and turned hardened criminals…more members of the state forces became more corrupt…until the problems of illegal drugs in columbia and mexico are still existing and rampant..

    4. VP has a good idea in decriminalizing illegal drugs, corruption will surely go down and crime will go up. As always VP has good idea in running the country. Really I should not voted the VP.

    5. With all the hype how dangerous these illegal drugs are, these drugs should not be tried in the first place, like the forbidden fruit in Genesis.

      Let’s put religion aside for now and put science and medicine in. This is what I like with our President. He takes note how (the mechanism and chemistry), these illegal drugs works in the brain and understanding them. He even illustrated what he knows with the use of CT-scan and use the word atrophy which only doctors and pathophysiologists use in their profession. He understands that there is a point of nearly no return when taken in a period of time. It will take a miracle to get back to normalcy.

      He understands that it will take a huge drain in our economy to rehabilitate these addicts. A setback to his and to the other’s vision for the Philippines.

      No, not this time for Leni’s ideas. There are other more pressing matters. Why not the Human Rights Groups change their gear and become the Human Rehabilitation Program Group for the Addicts. Yellows are all talks and no deeds.

    6. With all the hype how dangerous these illegal drugs are, these drugs should not be tried in the first place, like the forbidden fruit in Genesis.

      Let’s put religion aside for now and put science and medicine in. This is what I like with our President. He takes note how (the mechanism and chemistry), these illegal drugs works in the brain and understanding them. He even illustrated what he knows with the use of CT-scan and use the word atrophy which only doctors and pathophysiologists use in their profession. He understands that there is a point of nearly no return when taken in a period of time. It will take a miracle to get back to normalcy.

      He understands that it will take a huge drain in our economy to rehabilitate these addicts. A setback to his and to the other’s vision for the Philippines.

      No, not this time for Leni’s ideas. There are other more pressing matters. Why not the Human Rights Groups change their gear and become the Human Rehabilitation Program Group for the Addicts. Yellows are all talks an no deeds.

    7. It’s a good thing that you pointed this out – the distinction between decriminalization and legalization. It looks like this has been largely lost in the uproar right after VP Leni broached the idea of decriminalizing the use of illegal drugs. I think more work is needed to make it clearer to all of us that majority, if not all, of the users must be considered victims than need rehabilitation. Just as strongly we should condemn and more effectively apprehend those who are engaged in the trading of these illegal drugs. But just how this will be done? How can we allow anyone to use any drugs he wants – cocaine, heroine, shabu, anything, you name it, at the same time how can we be serious about the business of apprehending those who trade on these drugs? Mayroong allowed market na nga, paano mo mapigilan yong mag-trade nito?

    8. This article is about leni but i want to just talk about the decriminalisation of drugs. Im sure we all know drugs will be the ruination of any & every society. People try 1 drug & like it, so they try another drug, they like that & want to try them all. They get hooked & now need those drugs. They lose their jobs because of using the drugs & now they commit crime to get the money to buy those drugs. We know people on drugs can go out of their mind & commit the most heinous crimes whilst under the influence of drugs. So tell me why do anything to encourage or not discourage the use of drugs. Drugs are good for treating people under proper supervision & direction. To take them for pleasure starts as pleasure but always ends in a nightmare. No, the only answer is stop people taking drugs & its how best to do that everyone should be looking at

    9. So ang suggestion ng magaling nating VP Leni na kung mayaman ka at may pambili ka, ok lang magpakalolong sa droga at walang karapatan ang gobyerno na hulihin siya? NIce, this strengthens the human right of financially able drug addicts. PD30 ways are to strike fear to pushers and users alike. Ito ang batas kanto para sa kanto. Di na uubra ang mga malamya sa panahong na ito.

      Decriminalization sa users lang? Di ba ganon naman talaga Lahat na nabalitaan ko naman, ang niriraid ay drug dens and suspected pushers. Wag na wag nyong bigyan ng idea ang mga kabataan na di sila makukulong sa droga kung user kalang, dahil pag ginawa nila yon at addict na sila lahat gagawing na para mka gamit then its too late.

    10. “Drug use becomes criminal only when the user is involved in other crimes, such as theft, rape and murder.”

      However, since illegal drug use perpetuates murder, theft and rape, and therefore decriminalization is not possible.

    11. pinagugulo pa ninyo ang usapan, user, pusher, druglord at druglord protector ay mga salot sa lipunan na dapat patayin o sunogin ng buhay….

    12. The reason perhaps why Leni is not taken seriously is because she is the ” SMILINGEST” public official ever. Even in her video message to the UN she. was smiling thus negating the seriousness of her report.

    13. The country hasn’t even started to understand the drivers of addiction, cross-addiction, dual diagnosis, rehab methods, the use of prevention, the correlation of drugs to poverty, crime, social class, stress, depression etc., self-medication, prescribed drug overuse.

      Relapse rate for addicts is between 55% with good rehab, 70% with bad rehab, and 95% with no rehab so drug abuse will be a continuing problem. It is human nature, and needs a humanitarian approach. Every country suffers from it – the philippines less than most – but their leaders do not indulge in a daily rant. Running a country beeds more than a one trick pony with only one speech.

      Duterte and his urban myths – shrivelled brains etc.
      Back pain shrinks the brain by 11%
      and old age – over 70 – by up to 25%. Maybe that explains duterte’s nauvete and inability.

      20th century thinking does not solve 21st century problems.

      And the philippines has 2.5/3.0 million users but only 250,000 addicts. The difference is fundamental.
      60% of occasional users who experiment in youth stop using drugs by mid 20’s, if they havent been shot.

      Beware of politicians using a ‘war on (……..), for political gain/agenda and making up numbers. According to duterte the situation has got worse during his 9 months. If he cant solve it, which he wont, step aside and leave it to someone who knows what they are doing.

      • Beware of those who post comments who pretends they know what they are talking about, thats even more dangerous.

      • Then who my dear comrade. Duterte is the last option we have. All people who tried to eradicate the drug monster have been contaminated themselves. Comes this suggestion from Leni Robredo? She is a robot of some group who wants to own the country. Why believe her or even listen to her? She is just a pile of dung and the agonizing smell comes out whenever she moves her mouth.

    14. Greetinggs Ton-Ton,

      For a change, there is a meeting of the minds. For a change there is congruence of ideas – a positive step in formulating solutions to the most pressing issue that propelled Pdu30 into office – illegal drugs. A model of response we hope to see more between us — to bridge our variant beliefs and come to mutually workable reference points.

      I will not comment on the technical merits of the difference between decriminalize and
      legalize except to agree with what you wrote – they’re not the same. Your examples are crisp to be understood.

      It is clear the drug problem the President thought he knew (as a Mayor) is bigger, complex and circuitous than he ever imagined. If the reports are true, it transcends beyond the metro areas to remotest barangays — involving not only identified criminal elements but even law enforcers and barangays captains with “backing” from judges and politicians.

      It is widespread and has corrupted the nation.

      After almost a year of a one dimensional strategy, it is clear, the hardline approach is not achieving the desired results. Repetitive behavior can be habit forming and “addictive” – also deceiving. Such is the ongoing (monolithic or is it monotonous?) force-led response to illegal drugs.

      Shooting drug suspects have become a common and callous reaction. Brute force is “easy” specially with a gun and a (tarnished) badge. It is compounded by “colorful” language and “vague” instructions to the police. The results bear these out — simply yielding more body bags, a lot of questions and questionable acts.

      Refusing to accept this sad fact will be counter productive and yield the exact opposite of what we want to achieve. Something we cannot afford to happen.

      It is wise then to rationally explore and research other options. Decriminalization is one. This is what the VP suggested.

      It is too bad we have, in our midst, (editorial) bullies ready to pound on her suggestion. Well, they’re mistaken and as you said — she is right after all.

      Ayaw lang nilang mag-isip ng maayos. Mga tamad.

      • Sino ang tamad, I think the previous administration of BSAquino III fits your description of being “tamad” and thats why many Filipinos feels they need a hardworking and caring President to lead the country , they are tired of being poor and hungry,govt corruption, mounting drug problems affecting many innocent youth, due to severe drug proliferation , , they elected Pres Duterte. not Mar Roxas And Robredo idea is not a solution.

      • It is hard to admit the fact that killing all the people related to drug addiction is the only option on eradicating the drug problem. It is unacceptable from a person who have been using it already or have a relative who does. Tamad? How dare you said that! Are you crazy. We Filipinos lacks discipline it is a fact. People hooked in drugs does not care if drug use is a penalized, what more if it is not. Think ahead kaibigan baka ikaw mismo ang sinasabi mong tamad.

      • For me the hardline approach should just be the first phase. Scare the users/pushers/runners, force to their minds that the govt is dead serious (no pun intended) in eradicating this long-running menace.

      • Aphetsky Lasa on

        “…she is right after all.”

        About what ? That decriminalizing illegal drugs is the solution to address the drug problem in the Philippines? Really? The reason they are illegal is because they are prohibited and punishable by time in prison. Death penalty, perhaps? Anyway you look at it, use of illegal drugs is a danger to oneself and to others. It is criminal as well. You simply cannot decriminalize illegal drugs, otherwise, you would eventually legalize them, along with every element involved it their use. There will be no prison time. A drug user simply gets a slap on the wrist. For all we know, we have just created a de facto criminal lording over his act of brazen criminal activity. And because he could commit the same crime over and over whenever he wants, he becomes immune to prosecution. His punishment is improperly light. No serious consequences here. Why would he then be wary that the authority is going to catch up with him soon? He could use illegal drugs repeatedly any way he wants without fear of any consequences for using is now a free-for-all activity. Decriminalized and lawful, therefore legalized, activity. One thing leads to another.