Beyond quick fixes: What we should do about the drug problem
President Duterte’s decision to suspend the drug war, though very much belated, is welcome.
The exact terms of his order remain unclear as of this writing, but it nevertheless signals, at the very least, some openness on the part of the administration that can create space for renewed conversation about how we deal with our country’s problem. How do we move foward from this juncture?
First of all, we must not forget the victims of extrajudicial killings. Their blood calls for justice and until the perpetrators – vigilantes or otherwise – are called to account, we must refuse to move on from the carnage. As Agnes Callamard, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, said, the “pause” in the drug war “must include investigation of all unlawful death, accountability, reparation.”
The government should show openness to investigation if it is indeed innocent of allegations that it is behind the killings. When it is in the public interest, the Senate and the Congress can facilitate the ferreting out of the truth through the conduct of impartial inquiries. For their part, the judiciary should be ready to fulfill its duty of being an independent arbiter – and their recent issuance of a ‘writ of amparo’ to EJK victims is a welcome sign.
Second, we must make sure that the police is serious in cleaning up their ranks. Every Filipino wants a police force that will truly live up to its “serve and protect” motto. But if, as Duterte himself says, “40% of police are corrupt” and that “our enemies here are policemen who are criminals,” then a major overhaul is in order – one that will end the culture of impunity that has made many supposed law enforcers some of the most notorious lawbreakers in our land.
As the sordid kidnap-slay of Jee Ick-joo shows, what is at stake is not just the credibility of our police, but of country itself. Moreover, a police that is “rotten to the core” is undermined not just in dealing with the drug problem, but in all other matters of law enforcement. General Bato dela Rosa has vowed "drastic moves” to cleanse the PNP to be his final legacy as its soon-to-retire chief, and we can only hope that these efforts will truly translate to tangible results.
Third, now is the time to push for a comprehensive policy on dealing with the drug problem. Clearly, the “war on drugs” – that is, a punitive approach to drug users and pushers – did not work, and Duterte himself acknowledged that his boast of eliminating drugs and crime in six months was just campaign humbug. In its place, we need a framework that considers multiple approaches, each tailored to specific populations. Rehabilitation should be made freely available to drug dependents, and community-based interventions using a harm reduction approach should be piloted and considered for many others, including young people. The DOH is pivotal in dealing with what its secretary, Dr. Paulyn Ubial, has rightfully called a “mental health problem.”
But efforts to go after drug lords, traffickers, and their patrons (i.e. the “narco-politicians”) should also continue. Even the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) acknowledges that “supply reduction” is an important component in a comprehensive approach to drugs. The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) should continue to go after shabu (methamphetamine) labs, and be given inter-agency support to go after drug supply that comes from other countries. In this effort, international cooperation with China and ASEAN is crucial.
Finally, we must work to change people’s perceptions about drugs and drug users. In my research, for instance, I found that urban poor youths use shabu to gain more confidence and energy in doing various jobs, or to stay awake at night so they could work longer. If only they had other economic and educational opportunities, they would not have been caught in such a drug-using environment in the first place. Theirs is just one of many examples that show how drug use is often embedded in psychological, social, and economic circumstances that require our help and understanding - not outright judgment and punishment.
It is true that some drug users are engaged in criminal behavior for which they must face justice. But what is harmful is that this image is generalized to all drug users – all the imagined “four million” of them.
For as long as government officials and the public see drugs as an unqualified evil, drug users will remain stigmatized and deemed worthy of unreasonable punishments, tough campaigns against drugs will continue to receive popular support, and another "war on drugs" is bound to happen – and ultimately fail – in the future. – Rappler.com
(The author is a physician, medical anthropologist, and commentator on culture and current events.)