(Part 3 of a series on drugs in the Philippines)
CRITICS of President Rodrigo Duterte have long painted the drug problem in the country in terms of lives and dreams lost, of deaths pinned on cardboard sprawled on cold concrete in some dark corner of Pasay, and of masked hooded men killing allegedly at the behest of one butcher who became President.
They want the killings to stop. But what about drug pushing, how will it stop?
Defenders of the President see the drug problem in the dark canvass of a 13-year-old girl lying in a grassy place behind a school, brutally killed after being gang-raped by men high on shabu.
They want the killings to stop. But what about drug use, how will it stop?
There is no easy way out of the drug trap.
A drug addict killed can bring a feeling of satisfaction to the relatives of the dead girl from the retribution exacted for the injury done to them, even if it could not bring her back to life. Families of drug addicts may be too numbed by poverty and hunger to feel anything whenever a girl gets gang-raped and murdered.
To many, all these deaths happen in the world of the poor and the powerless, leading some to conclude that drugs are a menace only to the impoverished. Critics of the President condemn his war on drugs as anti-poor, as it allegedly only targets those who inhabit the world of pushers and users from the shanties and side-streets in the slums that they call their homes.
But this is a lie.
Drugs also circulate within the perimeters and the inner sanctums of the elite, within gated communities, inside upscale bars and condominiums inhabited by the wealthy and the perfumed. Drugs are peddled not only in discounted sachets by men waiting outside public high schools, but also delivered by pushers who could be mistaken for ramp models to condominium apartments, around schools and universities housing the children of the elite.
Indeed, there is a class dimension to the drug problem. The poor gets addicted, sometimes by necessity if only to extend productive hours or to go on for days with very little food, sometimes by the need to escape the misery of poverty, by one hit of shabu. And when addiction sets in, it is met with the reality of poverty. In order to sustain it, one is forced to a life of petty crime to earn from stealing and snatching, and for some, to become foot soldiers of the drug syndicates.
It is through this that the poor addict is led into a life of crime. It is an addiction the vicious effects of which extend beyond the family and spill over to the community, more so that they live in social arrangements that are more communal and public.
This is something that the coño addicts will never suffer from. They have money, and the luxury to scale up from the toxic and lethal shabu to the more fashionable party drugs, cocaine and heroin.
Addiction by the rich does not translate into a life of crime. And by design, the vicious effects of addiction by the wealthy are often contained only within the family. Rich addicts end up becoming depressed, but can go on living functional lives. And when they become dysfunctional, they can easily be hidden as family secrets, to be rehabilitated, or sent abroad, to escape the scrutiny of statistics and the law.
Even as poor addicts end up dead in the streets.
Some say that the best solution is to simply kill the source to starve the lifeblood of this addiction both by the rich and the poor. President Duterte seems to have adopted this approach in confronting the drug menace. But as the death of Mayor Espinosa has revealed, the depth and breadth of the drug problem from the supply side are so deep and wide, infecting all branches of the state and at all levels, characteristic of what can be considered as an incipient narco-state. Shock and awe tactics of the killing and scaring variety may cause a temporary respite. Some drug lords could easily take a leave and rest, take on legitimate business activities, or simply go abroad. And wait until the coast is clear.
And this is the problem. What will happen when President Duterte’s term ends?
The drug problem is a complex issue. On the demand side, it feeds into people’s need for escape from the stress of poverty or the loneliness and boredom of wealth. On the supply side, it becomes the oil that greases political fortunes.
It is obvious that a more sustainable solution is needed beyond the usual kill-the-drug-pusher, rehabilitate-the-drug-user strategy.
It is now in order to consider regulating functional drug use as a long-term solution to contain the incipient narco-state.
Next: Is legalizing and regulating drug use the solution?