IT has become fashionable, since the entry of Davao City Mayor and self-styled crime-buster Rodrigo Duterte into the presidential race, for politicians at all levels to liberally sprinkle their public comments with references to the “terrible” and “out of control” epidemic of illegal drug distribution and use, and the crimes that result from the lucrative illicit trade.
Senator and presidential aspirant Grace Poe-Llamanzares, in her capacity as head of the Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs, even went so far as to claim that politicians are funding their election campaigns with money from drug operations.
Although Mrs. Llamanzares offered little proof to back up that shocking accusation, at face value the charge is still not too hard to believe. Hardly anyone would argue that the problem of illegal drugs is not a serious issue; and the occasional high-profile drug-related arrest is confirmation enough of that, even if the problem may not be quite as dramatic as Senator Grace claims, it is still a source of corruption in many places.
We certainly do not intend to dismiss the seriousness of the illegal drug problem. Regardless of its scope, it is a destructive and thoroughly undesirable part of society, one that is extremely difficult to eliminate once it has taken root. Any government effort to address the problem – provided, of course, the approach is sensible and productive – is welcome, and deserves our full support.
And therein lies the source of some skepticism about the unexpected popularity of the topic among our political leaders and would-be leaders. If Mayor Duterte had not chosen to highlight his record of dealing with the drug problem in his city – a strategy that many observers see as uncivilized and largely ineffective – it is doubtful that his opponents and others would have shown such sudden interest.
This only makes the public doubt the sincerity of assertions by candidates that they will “fight illegal drugs.” The impression that is given by their making it the scandal du jour, even to the extent of declaring it, as a couple of political figures already have, the “most serious problem” facing the nation today, is that they will fight illegal drugs only so long as the public is paying attention. When a more interesting hot topic arises – and it will, sooner or later – and public attention is directed elsewhere, the illegal drug infrastructure and the people who are a part of it will once again be free to do as they please.
As futile as it may actually be to issue the challenge to our prospective leaders, we feel it is, nevertheless, our duty to put it on record for the sake of the people they ostensibly serve: The problem of illegal drugs, while probably not the country’s “most serious” problem, is by no means a trifling issue, and is not reduced in the slightest by grandiose declarations. No country has ever completely eliminated illegal drugs, and for one to claim to be able to do so within some arbitrary timeframe is dishonest and foolish. The countries that have made significant progress in reducing the drug problem, however – and there are many examples – have done so by implementing a broad-based, practical, humane and sustained long-term strategy that takes into account law enforcement and public safety concerns, public health issues, education, and supporting healthy families.
In short, the solution to reducing the proliferation of dangerous drugs and the economic and social burden they place on the nation requires a commitment to hard work. We sincerely hope that those who intend to lead this country after June 30 of this year understand that, and are willing to make that commitment.