PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday shot back at the former president of Colombia for criticizing his administration’s war on illegal drugs, calling him an “idiot.”
Cesar Gaviria, who led Colombia’s bloody narcotics crackdown and battled drug kingpin Pablo Escobar, said in a New York Times opinion piece on Tuesday that violence is not the way to win the war on drugs.
“[The former president of] Colombia has been lecturing about my [war on drugs]…that idiot,” Duterte said, without mentioning Gaviria by his name.
In his opinion piece, Gaviria told Duterte that the drug menace cannot be solved by the “heavy-handed approach of killing drug addicts.”
He said he was hoping Duterte would not commit the same mistakes that he did in dealing with Colombia’s drug problem.
“Throwing more soldiers and police at the drug users is not just a waste of money but also can actually make the problem worse. Locking up non-violent offenders and drug users almost always backfires, instead strengthening organized crime,” Gaviria wrote.
“We could not win the war on drugs through killing petty criminals and addicts. We started making positive impacts only when we changed tack, designating drugs as a social problem and not a military one,” he added.
The former South American leader said Duterte should instead strengthen public health programs, safeguard human rights and focus on economic development.
“Real reductions in drug supply and demand will come through improving public health and safety, strengthening anticorruption measures — especially those that combat money laundering — and investing in sustainable development. We also believe that the smartest pathway to tackling drugs is decriminalizing consumption and ensuring that governments regulate certain drugs, including for medical and recreational purposes,” he said.
“Winning the fight against drugs requires addressing not just crime, but also public health, human rights and economic development,” Gaviria added.
In a statement, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said Malacañang respects Gaviria’s opinion.
The Palace official noted that the second phase of the President’s anti-drug campaign focuses on the treatment and rehabilitation of drug dependents.
“More than a national security problem, the proliferation of drugs in the country has been regarded as a health pandemic,” Abella said, citing the 2,500-patient capacity Mega Drug Abuse Treatment and Rehabilitation Center in Fort Magsaysay, Nueva Ecija, which was inaugurated in November last year.
He also noted that another drug rehabilitation center, the Residential Treatment and Rehabilitation Center in Agusan del Sur – the first to open in a military camp in Mindanao – was likewise opened last year.
“In addition, Philhealth, the government’s national health insurance program, now covers a two-week drug rehabilitation program reserved at P10,000 per member. It is unfortunate that international attention to the drug war in the Philippines centers on drug-related killings rather than the breakthroughs of the campaign,” Abella said.