Although President Duterte’s police methods have drawn concern in various parts of the world, even those who deplore his methods at home are praying that his ‘war on drugs’ would somehow succeed. However, international experts who have done extensive studies on the global drug wars are deeply pessimistic; they describe the “war on drugs” as a failed strategy, and are calling for a major policy “rethink.”
These experts have not condemned the extrajudicial killings, the shoot-on-sight and “surrender or else” orders in the present drug war, as some UN officials, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and certain international publications have. Their studies precede DU30’s war by at least a couple of years. But their scientific findings lead us to conclude that if the global war on drugs has failed, there is very little chance it would succeed anywhere else.
In all these other places, the prohibitionist state has gone hammer and tongs after the producers, manufacturers, financiers and distributors of illegal drugs, not simply after everyday users and pushers who DU30’s war is killing or incarcerating en masse. The war on drugs is usually a war against cartels, with their own armies fighting the government armed forces; not simply against barefoot drug runners in the ghettoes or the streets. In certain cases, foreign governments have engaged the active cooperation of other governments in their fight; for instance Colombia and the US were said to be spending at least $1.2 billion a year in their joint effort to combat cocaine production and trafficking in that Latin American narcotic state.
The LSE IDEAS report
But despite $100 billion being spent yearly on counter-narcotics, efforts to stop the growing of coca crops and the production, manufacture and distribution of heroin and opium in these countries have generally failed. Illicit trade continues to spiral from $300 billion to $500 billion each year. Worldwide, “the militarized and enforcement-led war on drugs has produced enormous negative outcomes and collateral damage,” says the May 2014 Report of the LSE Group on the Economics of Drug Policy, an LSE IDEAS International Drug Policy Project of the London School of Economics and Political Science.
These include “mass incarceration in the United States, highly repressive policies in Asia, vast corruption and political destabilization in Afghanistan and West Africa, immense violence in Latin America, an HIV epidemic in Russia, an acute global shortage of pain medication and the propagation of systematic human rights abuses around the world.”
All these countries have experienced increased violations of human rights, violence, corruption, direct economic costs, economic divestment from certain regions affected by violence, mass displacement of populations, increased risk and harm of consumption, massive allocations to security forces. Global enforcement spending has risen at the cost of proven health policies, as governments tended to treat drug addiction primarily, if not purely, as a crime rather than as a disease.
The loss of distinction between criminal offense and illness is probably one of the biggest costs the war on drugs has had to reckon with. The production, manufacture, financing and distribution of illegal drugs is certainly a crime, and must be dealt with as such, but personal consumption, often arising from addiction, in the opinion of many, is primarily an illness that needs to be addressed as such. Simply shooting down or jailing suspects will not solve the disease.
Drug prices and profits
The thirst for profit drives the whole illicit trade. There is so much money to be made. Drug prices rise whenever the supply slumps, and the rise in prices encourages producers and manufacturers to supply more. The recent decline in output in the Golden Triangle—Thailand, Laos and Myanmar, which were the production leaders in the seventies to the eighties—partly explains the current dominant role of Afghanistan, where production and distribution are said to be controlled by the official death merchants.
While gold sells at $43.03 per gram ($1,338.25 per ounce), cocaine prices are reported to rise by more than $100 per gram. With the precarious situation of the dollar, prompting continued speculation about its impending demise as the world’s prime currency, more and more international banks are reported to have intensified the buildup of their gold and, yes, heroin and opium reserves. This is what we glean from a growing number of financial analysts, beginning with the redoubtable Jim Willie, editor of Hat Trick Letter, whose analyses on gold and silver activities can be accessed on his site, goldenjackass.com.
This means that if heroin has become as precious a commodity as gold, and the international monetary system is slowly shifting toward gold, any war on drugs will have to contend with powerful governments and the international banking cartel, which have begun stacking up not only on gold but also on heroin and opium reserves. Afghanistan alone produces 90 percent of these, according to the World Drug Report (2008). Afghan heroin and opium production has reportedly risen from 200 metric tons a year in 1980 to 6,900 metric tons in 2009, after peaking at 8,200 metric tons in 2007.
No drug war, therefore, will ever be won by simply jailing users and killing suspected pushers. Whether the Philippines is a producer or manufacturer of heroin or opium or simply a transshipment point, the country’s drug problem – and the money laundering and other problems associated with it – will remain for as long as the production, manufacture, financing and large-scale distribution of these drugs remain unchecked, even if every pusher were killed and every user jailed in the current war.
A failed project
As the current issue of The Economist puts it: “The lesson of drug wars in Latin America, and of previous dirty wars, is that extrajudicial violence resolves nothing and makes everything worse. Innocent people will be killed, and denunciations will also be used to settle scores and exploited by gangs to wipe out rivals. Filipinos’ desire for instant retribution will, surely, turn to horror, hatred and revenge. The rule of law will erode. Investors, who have made the Philippines one of globalization’s winners in recent years, will flee. The only winners will be the still-lurking insurgents. Mr. Duterte’s ill-conceived war on drugs will make the Philippines poorer and more violent.”
Indeed, the extrajudicial killings, backed by promises of impunity from a populist President, could create a climate of fear to silence any and all opposition to questionable government policies even on matters having nothing to do with the narcotics war. If drug suspects could be summarily executed while allegedly resisting arrest, any public dissenter on any important issue could be similarly executed and merely labeled as a drug suspect who had resisted arrest. The designated vigilante could just hang the usual cardboard sign around the victim’s neck saying, “I am a drug pusher.” This could be one of the high moral and constitutional costs of the ‘war’ – also the shortest route to becoming a narcotic state.
Advise to DU30
I would urge DU30 to read the LSE IDEAS report. It is signed by 21 eminent scholars and statesmen (although none from Asia or Africa), including five Nobel Prize winners for economics — Prof. Kenneth Arrow, 1972; Prof. Vernon Smith, 2002; Prof. Thomas Schelling, 2005; Prof. Oliver Williamson, 2009; and Prof. Sir Christopher Pissadires, 2010; President of Poland Aleksander Kwasniewski, 1995-2005; former British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg; former US Secretary of State George Shultz; Guatemala Foreign Minister Luis Fernando Carrera Castro; Colombia’s Minister of Health Alejandro Gaviria Uribe; EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy (1999-2009) Dr. Javier Solana; Baroness Molly Meacher, UK House of Lords; Baroness Vivien Stern, UK House of Lords; Prof. Paul Collier, CBE, Oxford; Prof. Michael Cox, LSE IDEAS; Prof. Connor Gearty, LSE; Prof. Margot Light, LSE IDEAS; Prof. Danny Quah, LSE IDEAS; Prof. Anne Westad, LSE IDEAS; Prof. Danny Rodnik, Princeton; and Prof. Jeffrey Sachs, Columbia.
Global history of drug policy
It minces no words and declares that the UN-governed global strategy for a “drug-free world” has failed. A new paradigm and a new set of agreements are needed. The failed strategy had its earliest beginnings in 1909 when the world powers first met in Shanghai to devise an international response to the abuse of opium, particularly in Europe’s Asian colonies. In 1912, the Hague Opium Convention tried to focus action on supply minimization and police enforcement. The League of Nations and subsequently the United Nations called for the eradication of non-medical and non-scientific use of drugs. In 1931, the UN adopted the Convention for Limiting the Manufacture and Regulating the Distribution of Narcotic Drugs. The distinction then was clearly established between licit and illicit drug markets, between states that grew drug crops and states that manufactured narcotics, and states that were allowed to grow opium poppy for the licit global market.
The licit drugs were traded through a set of international conduits administered by UN-affiliated technocrats, which eventually became the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB). In 1961, 73 UN member-states, the Philippines included, adopted the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs to combat drug abuse by coordinated international action. In 1970, the US under President Nixon, backed by the INCB, launched its first war on drugs. In 1988, the UN Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs renewed its call for a “drug-free world,” saying, “We can do it!” By 2000, however, the prospect of reducing illicit supply to zero looked dim. The report has now pronounced the “drug-free world” idea dead.
Licit drugs diverted to illicit market?
A 2013 situation analysis provided by the Global Drug Policy Observatory (GDPO) at Swansea University in Swansea, Wales indicates that more than 5.5 billion people (83 percent of the world’s population) in 150 countries have low to non-existent access to morphine and other controlled medicine for pain relief, palliative care or opioid dependency, while, according to the World Drug Report, 15 million illegal drug users in 2008 consumed 340 metric tons of heroin and 1,075 metric tons of opium. Does this mean that licit drugs are being diverted to the illicit market to meet demand? This must be ascertained.
The report calls for a new international cooperative network for governments based on principles of public health, harm reduction, illicit market impact reduction, expanded access to essential medicines, minimization of problematic consumption, vigorously monitored regulatory experimentation and unwavering commitment to the principles of human rights. Many were apparently looking forward to something like this at the UN General Assembly Special Session on Drug Policy last April; but the UNGASS failed to produce anything remotely responsive to the clamor for more effective approaches.
Some 195 civil society groups attending the special session complained about the conference process itself—the 23-page outcome document was prepared by the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna one month before the conference, and after inviting so many groups, the conference turned out everyone who could not be accommodated beyond the meeting room’s130 seats. They are now hoping the 2019 UN review would produce better results.
For those of us who would like to see PDU30 succeed, but believe very strongly that he needs to modify his methods in trying to rid the country of drug users and traffickers, we have to do our level best to convince our President to listen a little bit more to what the rest of the world is saying about his efforts to single-handedly recreate the Philippines and its concept of law, human rights and justice.