Let me start with a disclosure and declaration: Because of the contrarian position that I am taking on the war on drugs, I want to declare that:
1) I don‘t know anyone in the list of narco-politicians and drug coddlers that
President Duterte unveiled on Sunday – not one friend or relative or townmate whom I would wish to shield from the punitive hand of the law and public shame.
2) I personally do not use drugs, and am repelled by the very thought of them. And it has been the good fortune of my family not to see any member fall victim to drug addiction.
3) I do not know anyone who is a drug dealer or drug pusher, at least not to my knowledge.
Far removed from being targeted by the drug war, why then am I reluctant to give it my full support? Why am I loath to join the rabble of supporters for the President’s crusade and its excesses?
I refuse to join the parade because I see in this public spectacle the marks of a modern-day inquisition, the signs of mob mentality, and the portents of authoritarian rule.
Shock and awe
President Duterte’s pre-dawn address last Sunday in Davao City was designed to reduce the nation to “shock and awe” about the war on drugs – shocked by the extent of official complicity in the illegal drugs trade, and awed by the President’s implacable resolution to win this war for people and country. (There’s an intended parallel to the US strategy in the war on Iraq; I will elaborate on this point in a later column.)
“Name names” used to be the immediate riposte of persons accused of criminal acts in public. President Duterte
did not only name names; he recited a litany of them.
By the time he was done, no one was clamoring for names. Even the human rights police were momentarily silenced.
The stage belonged wholly to Mr. Duterte and his list. No one was going to steal the scene from them.
I listened to the complete address on my computer, and then read its transcript to make sure I heard him right.
You would think that after such immersion in ‘Duterte talk’ I would come away totally convinced and relieved of doubts.
Is this ‘a war of necessity’?
But after considerable study of the facts and justifications for the government’s drug policy, the casualty count of the drug war, and the repeated presidential call for killing and more killing, and after studying them alongside expert international literature on drug policy, I have reached the conclusion that our national drug policy is not firmly anchored on legal and ethical grounds, and that the war on drugs, with the indiscriminate killings and carelessly prepared list of narco-politicians and corrupt judges, has become deranged.
President Duterte still has not made the case before the nation that his drug war is a ‘war of necessity,’ and that its alarming count of killings is in any way justified.
Confronted with protests and criticism about possible human rights violations and denial of due process, the President has scoffed: “I do not care.”
Last Sunday, he turned this line up a notch when he declared: “Due process has nothing to do with my mouth. There are no proceedings here, no lawyers.”
In short, there is no violation of rights when he is just making accusations, even if unfounded. He can defame as much as he likes.
This would be all right if his hit list had been prepared with great care.
A list of no legal value
In fact, the list may be full of holes.
Records from the Office of the Court Administrator at the Supreme Court showed that three of the seven judges named by the President are no longer active.
1. Judge Roberto Navidad of Calbayog City, Samar regional trial court, who was named by the President, was killed while buying medicine at a drug store in January 2008.
2. Judge Lorinda Toledo-Mupas of the Dasmariñas, Cavite RTC was dismissed by the Supreme Court in 2007 for gross ignorance of the law.
3. Judge Rene Gonzales of Iloilo MTC has retired.
Worse, the Duterte list has no legal validity whatsoever. According to the dean of the San Beda Graduate School of Law, Fr. Ranhilio Aquino, it cannot be used as a basis for an arrest.
“The only thing going against anyone cited in the list is that they were mentioned by the President. That’s no basis for removing them from office or for filing charges against them.”
Aquino explained: “An elected official can only be removed from his position after hearings, whether administrative or judicial, where they are shown to be guilty.”
This is a world away from making the case that the Philippines was or is on the verge of becoming a narco-state, as the President has suggested.
The President is not done with his listing binge. The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) said more names of public officials, including congressmen and governors, involved in illegal drugs would be announced soon by the President.
Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said: “The President is encouraging all of the persons of interest, the alleged drug lords and drug coddlers, to come out in the open, to surrender themselves and submit themselves to thorough investigation.”
Come out in the open? Confess? Without the government submitting one iota of proof that they are, indeed, complicit in the illegal drugs trade?
This is why I am convinced that the Duterte strategy is shock and awe, like the US strategy in the war on Iraq, that through the sensationalization of the charges, persons named will be discombobulated into surrender.
To disarm the local officials, Duterte has ordered their security escorts withdrawn, canceled their firearms permits, and stripped them of the authority to supervise the local police.
And then the threat: “If you show the slightest violence and resistance, I will tell the police, ‘Shoot them.’”
Prohibition does not work
What clinched for me the conclusion that the drug war stands on shaky ground are some discoveries in my research:
1. A prohibitionist approach to drug policy does not work. It did not work with alcohol during the prohibition era in the US.
2. Alcohol and cigarettes are just as addicting and harmful as banned drugs. Why are they allowed to be manufactured and sold?
3. It is fundamentally difficult to justify restrictions that prohibition places on people’s liberties.
Drug legislation cannot be likened to compulsory seat belt legislation.
4. The drug war swells prisons to overflowing.
The argument that drug prohibition will prevent people from harming themselves is often justified on the basis of paternalistic considerations.
But how do you answer the question of Nobel prize laureate economist Milton Friedman, who asked: “On ethical grounds, do we have the right to use the machinery of government to prevent an individual from becoming an alcoholic or a drug addict?”