First of two parts
President Rodrigo Duterte is losing the battle against crime, drugs, and sleaze.
Huh? Didn’t this column just argue last Thursday that his anti-drug campaign has slashed not narcotics and crime? We also lauded him for firing two college fraternity friends over a P50-million bribery at the Bureau of Immigration, the very opposite of his predecessor’s constant defense of schoolmates, allies, and shooting buddies.
For sure, Duterte has shown toughness and resolve in fighting drugs, lawlessness and corruption. Problem is, there’s no way he and his administration can beat those entrenched scourges without help from the citizenry, key national sectors, and the international community. No way.
Make no mistake: Unless the nation itself makes a commitment and adopts policies and practices to combat and prevent crime and corruption over the long term, the globally linked narco-syndicates and their corrupt protectors in the government would be back after Duterte leaves office, as he will in 2022 or sooner.
Ditto grafters like those Immigration crooks, as well as the tanim-bala extortionists banished by election campaign threats to let them eat the bullets they plant in airport luggage. Even now, Duterte cannot catch every bribe-taker.
Plainly, major religions, local communities, business, civil society, and the citizenry must join hands with and give support to anti-graft reformers, honest officials and upright public servants. Otherwise, the dirty ones will find ways to continue and even expand and spread their venal ways.
The rise and fall and rise of drugs
We saw it in the drug trade over the past two decades. In the 1990s, the Philippines was not a major narcotics hub. For one thing, in those years, then-Customs Commissioners Salvador Mison and Guillermo Parayno squeezed smugglers, and the International Monetary Fund even hired the latter as consultant on customs reform.
But under the Estrada administration, contraband escalated, and the country became one of the top five narco-trafficking centers. In the 2000s, then-President Gloria Arroyo cracked down on drugs, as chronicled in “Beating The Odds,” a book on crisis management co-authored by this writer and former Cabinet Secretary. Thousands of dealers were arrested, and shabu labs dismantled, with no rash of extrajudicial killings.
Under President Benigno Aquino 3rd, however, smuggling skyrocketed to unprecedented levels. Based on IMF data, contraband tripled from $7.9 billion in 2009 to $26.6 billion five years later. Guns and drugs gushed in, as Aquino himself admitted in his 2013 State of the Nation Address. And that fueled the tripling in crime to more than 1 million incidents a year in 2013 and 2014, from 324,083 in 2010.
The lesson, of course, is that no presidential crackdown on crime and narcotics will win if the next Malacañang occupant abets the syndicates. And that backsliding can so easily happen — unless we as a nation forge a commitment and entrench policies and programs to combat drugs, lawlessness and sleaze. It’s the only way to win for good.
How to stop the killings
Is President Duterte mobilizing the nation toward an active, intensive, resolute and broad-based campaign against addiction, crime, and corruption? Or is he relying mainly on police powers, tough talk, and blood on the streets to shock and awe crooks, grafters, pushers and addicts into surrendering and mending their ways.
For sure, the body count is having a massive impact, with more than 1 million drug users and traffickers giving up, nearly 45,000 arrested, including 73 government officials accused of narco-links. Law enforcers have dismantled several huge shabu labs, and the Bureau of Customs reports that it has seized P1.27 billion worth of illegal narcotics.
But fast-forward to 2022 or maybe 2019, when Duterte said he would step down if charter change establishes federalism. Will the next regime, including perhaps autonomous regional governments, continue to battle global drug rings, especially if most Filipinos don’t help or care?
Even now, with hundreds of thousands of addicts needing rehabilitation, and millions more mired in drugs, Duterte’s campaign looks set to be overwhelmed if his government alone grapples with the nationwide challenge of getting addicts to kick their habit.
Yet the solution to the near-impossible task of rehabilitating more than 3 million addicts is all around them: the families, communities, parishes, and local governments in which the users live.
Plainly, if the drug problem is to be decisively and humanely solved, it will have to be through the collaboration of Filipinos families, barangays, religious and social welfare groups, and city and municipal authorities. Indeed, if they were involved from the start, the anti-drug war casualties would have been much lower.
Take San Juan City. Recently, Mayor Guia Gomez presided over the “graduation” of 300 former addicts now pronounced clean after undergoing a rehabilitation program involving their families, Christian groups like Christ’s Commission Fellowship, and city health and law enforcement personnel.
The city police also shut down a massive shabu lab secretly operating on posh Wilson Street a week ago. Some P3.6 billion in drugs were seized, and three Chinese nationals and three Filipinos were investigated and charged. President Duterte said he would have killed the six suspects, but San Juan has shown that his campaign need not be fatal to succeed.
Now, if the San Juan example is replicated nationwide, with the Catholic Church actively involved like other Christian groups, it would not only forge the grassroots commitment and solidarity needed to fight drugs. This collaboration among government, religion, family, and community would reduce killings far more than all the finger-wagging by the Church, the opposition, the West, and the United Nations.
Last week, President Duterte lashed out at the Church for condemning narco-deaths without providing help or alternative solutions. This new year, let both sides of the controversy end their war of words, and work with Filipino families and communities to stop drug abuse by helping addicts break free.
Otherwise, the drug lords will win sooner or later.
(On Thursday, we look at how President Duterte can tap civil society to fight graft.)