LONG before President Duterte even announced his candidacy, I called attention in this column to the terrible menace of dangerous drugs abuse engulfing the country. Coming home after a six-year assignment abroad, I was shocked to find my neighborhood in Manila and my mother’s remote village in Nueva Ecija both swarming with young drug addicts. Right outside the gate of my residence in Manila, teenage girls were huddled in the dark, sniffing some substance. These girls were later reportedly impregnated by other drug addicts in the area and delivered little naked children running around unattended in the streets. More alarmingly, in a nearby street corner, a young man from a prominent clan was stabbed dead after refusing to yield his cell phone to a drug-addicted hold-upper from the nearby slum area.
A dangerous drugs culture has permeated all levels of Philippine society. Also, owing to its strategic location in the Pacific, the Manila international airport has become recognized as an international exchange for prohibited drugs and the country has become a herding center for drug mules. Based on my experience assisting Filipinos carrying prohibited drugs at Pakistani airports, I bemoaned in the article the lack of international cooperation, especially in the exchange of intelligence information directed at the apprehension of the drug syndicates that deploy these women on their perilous errands.
Like many Filipinos, I was sanguine about President Duterte’s waging an unrelenting war against illegal drugs as he promised during his election campaign. But sans Digong’s colorful language and allegations of human rights abuses by certain sectors here and abroad, the new administration’s war on drugs might have escaped international attention. While illegal drugs have proved to be a grave threat to the stability and growth of developing countries, there have been notable trends in the West in the last decade in decriminalizing abuse of dangerous drugs. Heroin has long been legal in Italy. In recent years, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Canada have designated parks and centers where drugs may be distributed and used without risking arrest.
Vice President Robredo has referred to Portugal’s efforts to treat drug abuse wholly as a health disorder. Certain states in the United States have lifted restrictions in varying degrees on the sale and use of marijuana or cannabis. Like the cigarette before, the young everywhere are lured to illegal drugs by their association with entertainment people despite the latter’s dying because of overdose.
The history of the negotiation of international treaties on narcotics control from its first one in the 1930s shows the international community having (at least) two minds about narcotics control. Countries known for their opium and coca plantations worried how narcotics control would affect their economies! Developed countries would not have narcotics control affect the march of medicine and science. Whether mere personal use should be controlled or not is a matter of continuously raging debate. Even as the present treaties recognize narcotics control as necessary to the well-being of the international community, enforcement of the treaty is left entirely to the individual state party and its national laws. The agencies created by these treaties such as the UN Office on Drugs and Crime have by no means supranational powers. Their importance lies entirely on their reporting trends in the use of narcotics and the listing and delisting of controlled drugs. I doubt if the whereabouts, movements, and operations of international drug lords and their multicolored lieutenants across borders are even in the UNODC radar.
Duterte’s war on drugs has been criticized and pictured as a war on the poor. An American reporter won a Pulitzer prize stringing along photos taken by Filipino photographers of the death of drug pushers or users or both in the slums of Metro Manila and the overcrowding of disheveled surrenderees and inmates in a Quezon City detention center. The alarm about the peddling and abuse of dangerous drugs has been largely and precisely due to their spreading to even the most disadvantaged sectors of society, grimly putting into question the future of nearly half of the Philippine population and their offspring.
Drug lords and their minions have satanically found ways of making even the urban and rural poor take to drugs that they normally cannot afford. The drug of choice in the Philippines is methamphetamine, known locally as shabu, which is cheaper than opium, and its derivatives, and which can be marketed in small packets or degraded to make it even cheaper. It is imported from China and Korea or manufactured locally.
Duterte’s war on drugs has had some defects. A principal one emanates from the very reason the people voted for him: his promise of fast, effective action to solve the drugs problem perceived to be at the root of rising criminality. It is clear by now that the deadline Duterte set for himself for solving this national scourge was unrealistic.
The Duterte administration did not allow itself a pause to contemplate the magnitude of a national campaign. It seems to have been assumed that the Philippines is merely a larger Davao.
(To be continued tomorrow)