POLICE Brig. Gen. Valeriano de Leon was suddenly relieved as chief of Police Regional Office 7 (PRO-7) on February 6. He served as police regional director for less than four months. Philippine National Police chief Gen. Archie Gamboa cited de Leon’s failure to deliver the expected results in the campaigns against illegal drugs, illegal gambling and rogue cops as reason for his relief.

De Leon had taken over the post last October from Brig. Gen. Debold Sinas, who is now the National Capital Region Police chief. Sinas’ 17 months in the Central Visayas police office will be remembered by some as bloody and violent, with at least 324 extrajudicial killings (EJKs) and 133 casualties in police operations in Cebu alone, not counting the many killed in Negros Oriental. However, Sinas is also remembered for his determination to take charge, to make a difference and to reach out to even remote, New People’s Army-infested barangay (villages) in Negros Oriental.

General de Leon, I have been told, is pro-life. While this may have made him uncomfortable with the bloody strategy of his predecessor, it doesn’t mean that killings stopped after the departure of General Sinas. There were at least 48 EJKs, 26 homicide/murder and 18 cases of armed attacks where the target survived (though may later have died at the hospital) in Cebu from mid-October to February 6. Deadly shooting incidents have intensified in Cebu since the New Year. In Negros Oriental, there were at least 44 EJK/homicide/murder cases during de Leon’s less than four months as PRO-7 chief.

Obviously, the killing of hundreds of drug personalities by police and “unidentified gunmen” did not stop the proliferation of illegal drugs in Cebu. Even if we blame all other crimes on drugs, on what do we blame drugs? Why do people get into the illegal drugs business? Why do people take drugs that destroy the brain and body? Police operations may remove a part of the supply from the market. Arrest or killing of drug users lead to reduction of demand — but the factors that really drive both drug peddling and drug abuse are not addressed. Drug abuse is tragic and pathetic and the sooner we remove the major factors behind this social ill, the better.

Poverty and joblessness alone do not explain the proliferation of illegal drugs, neither are they the excuse or alibi for engaging in the illegal business. However, in the Philippine context they are significant drivers of illegal drugs. Are we winning the war on poverty and joblessness?

First the good news: the 8.8-percent hunger rate reported in the Social Weather Stations 2019 fourth quarter survey is the lowest hunger rate since 2004. The likely explanation for this is the government’s cash transfer programs that target the poorest of the poor. The conditional cash transfer program reaches about 4.2 million families, while the unconditional cash transfer program grants modest cash subsidies to more than 5 million families.

Sharp declines in joblessness in Metro Manila and Luzon resulted in an overall decline in adult joblessness. Urban joblessness is at its lowest in 15 years at 15.3 percent. Joblessness in the Visayas and Mindanao, however, rose. In Mindanao, joblessness in the last quarter of 2019 stood at 20.7 percent. The Visayas still maintains a relatively lower rate at 15.7 percent, but it’s an increase from 11.8 percent in the previous quarter.

Self-rated poverty rose to the highest level since 2014. Two out of three families in the Visayas and Mindanao rate themselves as poor. In short, majority of families, while not experiencing hunger, are struggling to make ends meet. The effects of the 2019-nCoV pandemic on the economy could be severe, resulting in more hardship for already struggling Filipino families.

The government must work harder to create gainful employment or income-earning opportunities for more Filipinos, find ways to make life better not harder if gains in fighting illegal drugs are to be permanent.

‘Finding the calm in the chaos’

This could be the title of an inspirational lecture on how to cope with the 2019 novel coronavirus acute respiratory disease outbreak, but it is actually the title of Cebuano visual artist Dennis “Sio” Montera’s exhibition at Qube Gallery in Cebu City. It is also the title of one of his paintings. Montera’s works of art come into being in a reverse way, or “addition by subtraction,” according to curator Ricky Francisco. After applying layers of paint on the canvas, Montera scrapes and scratches and peels off the paint “to reveal what is underneath.” The result is surprising — even to the artist himself. While abstract art is confusing, if not disturbing, to some who like to look at familiar objects, one does find calm in what seems like chaos in Montera’s abstract paintings.

Even the titles of the paintings are unexpectedly thought-provoking such as “Enjoy the journey, the destination is just a mirage,” “Trust in your own story” and “I will not say yes when my heart says no.”

Check out and Qube Gallery, Cebu City.