I WRITE this to open a discussion of the critical and ominous challenge to the Duterte presidency arising from the administration’s drug policy and war on drugs. But to complete my proposition I have to refer to the analogous crises of survival that confronted other presidents, Filipino and American, and how they succeeded or failed to surmount their respective crisis.
As chief executive, President Duterte is not unique or different from other presidents for being saddled with the failings and disasters of a major policy.
Other presidents, here and abroad, have lived through their own crisis of leadership. Some, for not finding the requisite solution, were overwhelmed by their crisis and lost office. Others, by turning deftly to a strong turnaround strategy and strength of character, kept their presidency intact and went on to leave a strong legacy behind them.
Reagan, Nixon, Clinton, Marcos, Arroyo
In the US, the foremost examples of this crisis of survival are the presidencies of Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.
For Reagan, the crisis was the Iran-Contra scandal, wherein the US shipped arms and missiles to Iran in exchange for the freedom of seven American hostages, and used the profits to aid the Contras in Nicaragua.
For Nixon, the crisis was the Watergate scandal, wherein operatives of the Committee to Reelect the president (CREEP), were caught burglarizing the campaign headquarters of the Democratic Party at the Watergate building in Washington, D.C., and wherein the Nixon administration compounded its troubles by covering up the crime.
For Clinton, the crisis was the Monica Lewinsky scandal, wherein Clinton was exposed and impeached over an illicit sexual relationship with an intern at the White House, and for lying to investigators about his misconduct.
Here at home, the instructive examples are the presidencies of Ferdinand Marcos and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
For Marcos, the crisis of his presidency was the assassination of opposition leader and former Sen. Benigno Aquino, Jr., on August 21, 1983, for which he was widely blamed by opponents and critics here at home, and by the international community.
For Gloria Arroyo, the crisis of survival was the Hello Garci scandal, wherein it was alleged that she sought the help of a Comelec commissioner to rig the 2004 elections, and which ignited a loud agitation for her resignation.
A summary of the outcome of these crises shows the following:
1. Reagan survived his crisis by fully cooperating with the investigations, turning over documents, and refusing to invoke executive privilege; some members of his staff went to jail.
2. Nixon resigned the presidency while facing almost certain impeachment by Congress. Many of his closest staff went to jail.
3.Clinton was impeached by the House for two articles of impeachment, by a vote of 258 to 176. In the Senate, the impeachment articles failed to receive the two-thirds majority necessary for conviction and removal from office.
4.Marcos created a commission to investigate the Aquino murder that was headed by former Court of Appeals Justice Corazon Agrava. After almost a year of investigations and public hearings, the Agrava board submitted two reports to Marcos: a minority report penned by Agrava alone and the majority submitted by the other members.
More than 20 military personnel were charged in 1985 for the murder of Aquino and Rolando Galman, the alleged assassin. However, a Sandiganbayan court acquitted all accused a few months later.
5. Arroyo weathered the crisis of her presidency by steadfastly refusing to step down. There were loud calls for her resignation, after House and Senate inquiries into the alleged tapes. Arroyo admitted at most talking to one Comelec official after the votes had been counted.
Arroyo went on to serve up to the end of her term in June 2010, and led the strong recovery and performance of the Philippine economy.
Duterte and Kian delos Santos
For President Duterte, the trigger for his crisis of leadership is the recent murder of a 17-year-old Grade 11 student by police in Caloocan. Kian’s killing unleashed a nationwide cry of outrage, and has galvanized a coalition of variant forces, political, religious, social, military, and civil society, that collectively seek an end to the war on drugs.
Independent investigations and a Senate inquiry overwhelmingly point to the Caloocan police as the perpetrators of the murder, and to the drug war under the PNP as the root cause of the crime.
Public attention now is on whether PNP Director General “Bato” de la Rosa can survive as the chief implementer of the drug policy.
From here, the finger of blame could also engulf President Duterte, and his tendency to exhort the police to shoot down drug suspects and to promise them presidential protection.
Soon the drug policy and the drug war will be subject to exhaustive review.
From his first year in office, it is manifest that Duterte is not a leader for turning. He is temperamentally ill-disposed to admit mistakes.
Consequently, I think it is more likely for the drug policy and drug war to change, rather than for Duterte himself.
The case for a policy change has become overwhelming, not only because of the drug killings, but because more and expert information has been flowing into the country on how to fight illegal drugs more effectively and how to contain the terrible side effects of drug use.
At bottom, I believe the country needs a strategic reset of the entire policy framework for drug control and administration. We have to fight illegal drugs with a new strategy.
The term “strategic reset” was first coined by the US military in the war in Iraq to refer to a new policy framework designed to stop counterproductive US engagement in a fragmenting Iraq and to strengthen the United States’ stance throughout the Middle East. In military terms, “reset” refers to “a series of actions to restore units to a desired level of combat capability commensurate with future mission requirements.”
Drug policy changes
I think a similar strategic reset of the Philippine war on drugs can substantially change the situation for the better.
The reset could contain some or most of the following changes:
1. The transfer of overall planning and implementation of drug enforcement administration from the PNP to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA). PDEA should be expanded into a full-fledged agency that can fight illegal drugs from north to south, with the police only helping.
2. The return of the PNP to its primary role of controlling crime and ensuring public safety.
3. Appointment of a fulltime Secretary of Interior and Local Government to lead policymaking in law enforcement.
4. Consideration of decriminalization of drug possession and drug use as a new approach in the fight against illegal drugs.
Prohibition does not work
Our national drug policy must start to recognize the fact that prohibition does not work in fighting drugs.
Prohibition did not work when America tried to fight alcohol during the prohibition era, when the policy only served to abet the proliferation of crime gangs. America’s most harmful drug is alcohol.
Prohibition does not work today. Since the Harrison Narcotic Act of 1914, America has banned the sale and consumption of heroin. Today, America has the worst heroin problem in the world.
Today, several countries are testing alternatives to a prohibitionist approach to illegal drugs. The reasons for alternative thinking are:
1.It is difficult to produce an adequate justification for the restrictions that prohibitive laws place on people’s liberty; and
2.There are enormous social and personal costs to a prohibitionist approach.
Worthy of study is Portugal’s policy launched at the start of the new century, wherein it decriminalized the possession and use of illegal drugs.
The point of the policy is this:
1. Henceforth possessing and using banned substances will no longer be a crime. You will not be arrested.
2. On the other hand, the manufacture, sale and traffic of certain drugs will remain a crime. Government will maintain a strong policy to arrest violators.
Portugal’s main objective in adopting decriminalization is to direct more attention and resources to helping citizens who fall victim to drug addiction, to recover through rehabilitation, and to decongest prisons. Policymakers believe that by this means, government could significantly reduce the demand for illegal drugs and shrink the market of the drug trade.
Portugal’s experiment has not been a total success, but so far, the results have been positive.
The world is keenly watching what is happening there. We Filipinos must also watch and learn.