Reflections on President Duterte’s war on drugs



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THERE are things that to my mind are indispensable prerequisites to the national campaign against dangerous drugs. Foremost among these is the clean-up of the police force. Widespread corruption, including particularly involvement in the peddling of dangerous drugs (taken from the cabinet of confiscated drugs) is almost common knowledge. Recent events have shown that some policemen have taken the Duterte campaign as another and bigger opportunity to make money (by deadly and other forms of extortion.) One would wish that the campaign should have been run entirely by special police forces selected for their reputation of no-nonsense dedication to country and duty, and I know such types exist (among them a cousin and schoolmates of mine). Would that the President’s rhetoric be to praise and encourage such men rather than promise impunity and pardon, if found guilty, to law transgressors!

The measure of the efficiency of the campaign cannot obviously be a mere body count of dispatched pushers and addicts. The casualty list may run into the thousands but the tap of drugs may continue to be open and inundate communities. The focal targets of the campaign should thus be the sources and conduits of illegal drugs. How many of these sources has the campaign neutralized and liquidated?

Observers of drug lairs report that big-time drug pushers have become even bolder, perfecting a cat-and-mouse game with the police, openly selling drugs when their own intelligence network signals that the coast is clear. For those who have become dependent on the drug trade for their livelihood, the choice is now death by police squads/vigilante groups or death by starvation. (There may thus be a need for alternative job programs similar to those UN programs to wean away farmers from opium cultivation to other, legal sources of income, like the vineyards supported by the government in the Golden Triangle that I visited when I was Ambassador to Laos.)

Because important sources of illegal drugs are abroad, the anti-drugs campaign must necessarily involve authorities at customs, airports, Coast Guard, and Philippine embassies and consulates. I hope police attaches in our embassies in China, Korea, and other places, are clearly mandated to work with their local counterparts on the identification and apprehension of exporters of these dangerous drugs to the Philippines.

The 2014 UN Drugs and Crime Report placed drug addiction in the Philippines at seven million, or almost 10 percent of the population. The judicial and penal system at the outset could thus be seen as sorely inadequate to handle a national anti-drugs campaign. A practice abroad that the Duterte administration could have emulated is the establishment of special courts and jails for drug-related offenders. Pakistan has those courts and jails because of the proximity of the No. 1 producer of opium in the world, the Afghan poppy fields. The need for those courts and jails may be indicated not only by the needs of the present campaign but also by the country’s emerging as a transit point for the drug trade, because of its strategic location.

Even with critics placing the casualty count at 7,000 and the number of surrenderees congesting detention centers, the extent of the population affected by the drug menace tells us that it is not too late to undertake corrective measures.

Our national hero Jose Rizal advocated universal human rights half a century before the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights was enacted. A bill of human rights is enshrined in the Constitution of the country’s First Republic. Belief in human rights is a tradition deeply ingrained in the Filipinos as eventually shown by Philippine revolutions against foreign colonizers and a locally grown dictator.

The cussing of President Duterte is certainly not enough reason for a foreign diplomat to remove the Philippines from his list of civilized nations.

Critics who allege violations of human rights in the anti-drugs campaign must be able to show strong evidence to counter the presumption of regularity established by the provision in our Constitution and laws and the rules of engagement of the police. On the other hand, any anti-drugs campaign cannot be deemed a professional one without regard for human rights.

Because we have laws, starting with the Constitution, and a system of government founded on human rights, the European Parliament resolution threatening to cut off the Philippines’ Generalized System of Preferences privileges because of alleged human rights abuses in the anti-drug campaign is an unwarranted intervention in our domestic affairs and a denigration of the principle that economic aid to developing countries should be without political conditionalities. Local individuals and organizations behind the resolution appear to lack a belief in the ability of their nation to chart its own course of governance and destination.

Let the critics alleging human rights violations file their complaints before the proper forum. Government should attend to these allegations and proceed to apply corrective measures where justified. But we hope those allegations do not detract from or diminish the importance the people give to President Duterte’s anti-drugs campaign and wish in fact that the nation can work as a team to rid the country of the scourge and menace of dangerous drugs abuse. ao


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  1. The vast majority of Filipinos believe that the drug war must be won. We have seen and corrected a few flaws in the the war, but all in all it is moving along in the right direction.