Dopey drug war recalls Asian values debate


First word


IN earnestness and quirkiness, President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs mirrors Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s campaign for “Asian values” vs Western values that became an intense polemic between Singaporeans and Americans.

Those who thought that the Asian values debate died with Lee Kuan Yew should think again. The old debate is coming back in a different form courtesy of DU30’s drug war and the wide-ranging quarrel over “human rights” that it has provoked.

It’s apposite to recall the Asian values debate, because the distinguishing marks are remarkably similar. Both Asian values and the drug war were triggered by a popular Asian head of state who had the full backing of his government and his colleagues. Both got the attention and spirited criticism of Western governments and the international media. Both led to grandiose challenges to debates, which promised to feature top officials and luminaries as debat ers and then failed to happen. Both made “human rights” a collateral issue for contention, threatening scary consequences on governments.

I personally hope and expect that the drug war polemic will be resolved in the same way as the Asian values debaters—by the sheer exhaustion of the contending sides, with no one made the wiser by all the humbug.

Drug war in Asean

When Duterte brought the drug war to the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Cambodia, and put forward his argument that Asean should implement a region-wide drug war, he took a turn that could prove difficult to manage.

He called on businessmen and leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) to take a stand against the scourge of drugs much as the Philippines has done. He highlighted the need to dismantle what he called the “illegal drugs trade apparatus” that threatens Asean’s young workers.

“The Asean youth are among the best and most creative, intelligent and innovative in the world. We must empower them to be the best version of themselves,” Duterte said. “We cannot turn a blind eye on the scourge of illegal drugs that threatens our youth and the future of our societies. We need to take a committed stand to dismantle and destroy the illegal drugs trade apparatus. We must reaffirm our commitment to realize a drug-free Asean community.”

Duterte then declared that investing in human capital should be a priority, considering that Asean is turning into an economic powerhouse with its young population.

Duterte was in Cambodia to attend the Davos-sponsored forum which focuses on Asean as an emerging key economic grouping.

As chairman of the Asean this year, Duterte has pushed for initiatives that would promote economic integration
to narrow the gap among the region’s citizens. He spoke of the “Asean Way.”

He said: “We will continue to seize opportunities with our economic partners within and outside of the region. But make no mistake: in our pursuit of integration, it is the distinctively Asean Way that will guide us.”

Remarkably, just as he did in launching the drug war in the Philippines, the President made no case for the declaration of a war on drugs in Asean.

He did not discuss in any detail the drug situation in the region or in individual Asean countries. He just assumed that there is a drug menace that requires a policy of killing.

In the Philippines, DU30 proclaimed war against illegal drugs with only a generalization that the country has four million drug addicts, and by just waving alleged lists of men in uniform and Philippine officials who were allegedly coddling the drug lords. He talked of a campaign of killing, but none of his figures have been validated by the country’s drug agencies, which oddly had different figures.

Remarkably also, as Duterte drew a swarm of critics for his brutal campaign, the critics, domestic and international, were too lazy to produce a solid body of facts to assail DU30. Neither the human rights groups nor the Western media have bothered to seriously investigate the real drug situation in the country.

This is why I call the drug war “dopey”, because neither President Duterte nor his dedicated critics and opponents want to deal with facts.

Asian values debate

In a fine article on the Asian values debate for the Journal on Democracy, Donald K. Emmerson traces the course of the debate from beginning to end.

The debate was conducted largely between by Singaporeans and Americans. It began in 1993 when in the journal, Foreign Policy, Mr. Bilahari Kausikan, a Singaporean foreign ministry official, and Mr. Aryeh Neier, head of Human Rights Watch, criticized and defended, respectively, “the Western approach to human rights” in East Asia.

Singaporean professor Kishore Mahbubani asserted in 1994 that Asians valued tough punishment for criminals, while the US favored leniency, thereby allowing wrongdoers to go unpunished and leaving America in constant fear of crime.

In October 1994, a visiting American scholar in the National University of Singapore, Christopher Dingle, accused East Asian governments of concealing the death toll from repression in Burma, East Timor and Tibet. He accused the region’s judiciaries of complicity in the repression. And then he discussed practice in Singapore, where the government has a policy of bankrupting opposition politicians by filing costly court suits against them.
As the cases drew wide coverage, Lee Kuan Yew and other Singapore officials felt pressed to debate the subject of Asian values.

When Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong accepted an invitation to receive an honorary degree from Williams College in Massachusetts, local faculty members with objections to Singapore’s record on human rights sought to arrange a debate between Goh and two critics of Singapore.

In a New York Times column backing the debate, William Safire made his view scathingly clear: “Despite oleaginous pretensions about a new Asian culture that transcends human rights,” he wrote, Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew, Prime Minister Goh, and “the dauphin”—Lee’s son and Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong— “represent old-fashioned European totalitarianism.”

Goh replied to this by inviting Safire to debate him in Singapore. Safire rejected the idea of going to Singapore to appear before “a hometown crowd” as “a setup for a local racist triumph.” He offered instead to argue the universality of democratic values with Lee Kuan Yew in Switzerland before an “unintimidated press.” The debate did not materialize.

Meanwhile, in a separate controversy, Goh and both Lees asked a Singapore court to compel the International Herald Tribune to pay them $930,000 in damages for an article by British journalist Philip Bowring that criticized the notion of Asian values. In that article, Bowring accused Singapore of “dynastic politics, implying that the son owed his position to his father’s influence.

In 1977, Singapore’s then foreign minister confessed to having “serious doubts as to whether such a thing as Asian values really exists.”

“It may exist as an image, but it has no reality,” he said.

The fact is other Asians are not convinced either that there is such a thing as Asian values that Asia can hold up to Western culture and values.

Debate on drug war

To return to the drug war polemic, DU30 may be deceived into pursuing debating as a strategy to win the polemic, because he has as his new foreign secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, who is always ready to talk about anything, no matter how poorly informed he is.

I remember Cayetano defending then senator Manny Villar against criticism for diverting public funds to the construction of circuitous roads in his lands in Cavite. The fool’s errand was a disaster.

Better to fix the war on drugs and stop the drug killings. No one is clever enough to debate successfully a policy of killing his fellow citizens.


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  1. The US used its weight to pressure the smaller countries, like the Philippines, to make many prescription drugs illegal. Prior to this push by the US, the Philippines had no drug cartels. The corruption was in the political positions. Then the Philippines bent over and took the lesson and did what the US told them to do, like good little puppy dawgs. Now that the Philippines has made all of these drugs illegal, the vicious violent evil folks that had difficulty getting work now found an environment that was fruitful. These evil people, willing to kill to do business, picked it right up, and got into black market drug manufacture, sales and distribution. It has been proven time and time again, legalization of drugs is the solution. It stops a handful of people that are evil from making billions of pesos per month, yes billions. and when drugs are legal, the pharmacists, the grocery stores, start selling these products and the wealth is distributed and many people benefit with jobs and options.

    Drugs are not good, drugs are not bad, they are just objects. The people that take drugs daily, are people with health care issues. They seek out a solution however, too many physicians say YOU ARE A CRIMINAL YOU ARE TAKING DRUGS, are you the judge and jury? Or are you their doctor. A real Doctor will say, “Hey it appears that you have a health care problem, lets get this figured out and figure out what the best therapy is for you.”

    The push by governments that PEOPLE THAT TAKE DRUGS ARE CRIMINALS, Instead of the push that people that take drugs are people with health care issues, is the big issue. It has been found repeatedly that politicians that say YOU ARE CRIMINALS, are the people that are involved with the black market business, because the money is sooooo gooood. Yes, a billion pesos per month and more.

    Drugs are a health care problem. Drugs are not a criminal problem. Black market businesses are criminal problems, however, the drug issue will basically go away, once all drugs are legalized. This has been proven time and time again. The people that deny this, are involved with black market drugs, that is the only answer.

    As far as Shabu, (Methamphetamine) it wears out a patient’s heart, and for every dose, it takes around 2 weeks of their heart life away. Modafinil has been found to replace shabu effectively for shabu users, and it is over the counter in many countries. It has no heart effects, it has no high blood pressure effects. It has been found to be a safe product. If the Philippine Government allowed for Modafinil to be sold over the counter, Shabu would most likely go away.

    Again, drugs are a health issue. Not a criminal issue.

  2. President Dutuerte should adopting the British policy sending million of drug dealers and drug addict to the southern Philipine where Abu sayyaf hiding, They can help the country by fighting with the muslim and the people can forgive them . In the 18 century, The British government sent all criminals to Australia which help develop new colony. The Philipine tax money should be use properly and not wasting on the drug criminals living manila prison. it a waste of time and money for Philipine

  3. Amnata Pundit on

    You obviously have not heard of the millions of casualties in America’s century old campaign to spread democracy. If they give the impression that they are winning the debate, its only because they have the biggest megaphone in the world, the western press.

  4. Yen, have you done your own survey by visiting the provinces where shabu addiction was a menace regardless of status in society. Interview the residents on how the drug war change chaos day and nights to peacful days and quiet nights. I am from one of those provinces and despite it being called a war it brought peace.