Duterte won’t beat drugs and graft if we don’t help

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Ricardo Saludo

Ricardo Saludo

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.)

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10 Comments

  1. How can the President work with the Catholic church if their leaders are condemning him right from the start of the election campaign period? Even giving Delima a chance to speak in their tribune against the President? A church leader forcing parishioners to sign a petition to oust the President?

  2. Sounds like he’s calling for shootings from the mass Citizens which will prove a disaster. More innocent the guilty will be shoot. It’s the craziest thing I ever heard.

  3. I concord to your idea Mr. Saludo. In fact, I been writing reactions and commentaries to many times to forward my idea on how to combat drug manace in the Philippine society. I been telling many of your fellow writters in Manila Times to tell the government to involve all of the the community of faith for a longer project and substancial change in the government campaign against illegal drug. The Catholic church, other Christian denominations and other religion have the widest and broadest network that include all ages throughout the philippines. The government should also be making effective policies for those government personal accused of involvement in illegal drug to be immediately dismiss while investigation is going on. Unless policies for government personal involvement in illegal drug are emplaced, all of Du30’s words to scare people that he would kill them would be in vain, helpless and worthless. I believe on the educational part against illegal drug campaign by the government is necessary. Du30 should not be relying only to his police and guns; Du30 should involve all the schools, colleges and universities on his campaign against illegal drug. Du30 should also rely to his people by making them involved for a substancial change for a better living.

  4. The Liberal Party and the yellow army are helping themselves to bring back the yellow golden years of corruption, illegal drug trades.

  5. What we need is a “carrot”.

    Duterte’s image has been cast as the “stick”, one laced with blood & hyperbole but effective nonetheless.

    How I wish that VP Leni could have fulfilled the other side of the yin-yang duo, the one who brings the compassion & empathy of the Philippine government. Allegations of laziness & incompetency aside, she could not bring to divest herself from the yellow machine which bankrolled her climb to VP-hood. She may not have personal ambitions towards the presidency but the people surrounding her definitely does.

  6. Great idea Mr. Saludo.. But people of the Philippines is not easy to please. Maraming negatibong comentaryo, maraming angal at maraming contra!

    This is the facts, lalong lalo na ang mga contra partido na mga politico. Always against who ever won in the elections. They can not wait for the next election, gave it as a new chance for them to improved their campaign, and learned from their lousy performance from the past how the manage the country.

    Madalas namamatay ang taong nagbibigay ng imformations hinggil sa ga criminal at drug-lords. Walang siguradong programa ang gobyarno sa mga vigillante upang maging ligtas ang buhay nila na gusto maka-tulong sa pag lutas ng mga katiwalian. Ito yung sinasabi ng marami na “dont care lang ang mga pinoy”

    Anyway once more, Mr Saludo maganda ang iyong mungkahi na tayong mga pilipino ay magkaisa.

    • Tama, ang mga Pinoy ay karaniwan magaling bumatikos at demanding pero bantulot naman tumulong na iniaasa lahat sa gobyerno.

  7. Everyone knows a war on drugs, which is actually a war on citizens, is a losing battle in liberal western countries like the US and Canada, or conservatives ones like Mexico, but even in totalitarian countries like China and Iran drug addiction is on the rise and those governments don’t have solutions either. see these articles from 2016:

    http :// www. dw. com/en/china-fighting-uphill-battle-in-war-on-drugs/a-19072445

    http :// qz. com/693031/iran-has-a-growing-drug-problem-and-young-well-educated-women-are-among-its-biggest-victims/

    But one thing is for certain, simply killing addicted citizens without due process will not solve the problem. It just brings the administration of justice into disrepute, undermines the rule of law and paves the way to tyranny.

    The real war must be on the social conditions that lead to addiction in the first place, such as poverty and inequality that create hopelessness.

    • when duterte steps down from the presidency and drug addicts start roaming the streets again and rape and kill your relatives, I hope to see here again rejoicing that finally the constitutional rights of criminals are being respected again