Young and stupid

AS EASY AS ABC - Ching M. Alano (The Philippine Star) - June 5, 2016 - 12:00am

On a side trip to Mexico City, I got adventurous with local cuisine and tried the exotic escamole. It’s a dish with a healthy serving of black ant eggs and black ants. Dinner in Mexico can be quite late. I took mine around 10 p.m. At 1 a.m. when I was attempting to sleep, I had difficulty breathing, had stomach ache, and skin rashes along with burning sensation in my ears. I was rushed by my friend-client to a Spanish hospital. While on oxygen, a combo of medicine was administered intravenously into my right arm – a first for me. Yes, I was in a hospital and was still having a cocktail. That the doctor was a pretty Latina I think helped keep my consciousness between pain and drowsiness. It was a really bad allergic reaction that all went away in a couple of hours of treatment.

You see, I am no longer young, but not exempted from being foolish, from being adventurous. Well, I didn’t know black ants can do that to me. But I lived to tell the tale.

It is an unintentional preamble to what I really want to take up with you this Sunday. It is having a say on the adventures of the young and stupid, unfortunately exemplified recently by teenagers or young adults who had too much fun in a concert at the bay area. When the music stopped at the break of dawn, five (5) were dead, two of them 18 years old, one in his early twenties, and two in their 30s. The symptoms before they died suggested drug overdose, and the autopsy report on at least two of the deceased showed damage to the brain, heart, kidney, and liver. These five had no chance against the poison drug. They could have been anybody’s children.

When something as tragic as this happens, one question for a lack of a better one that can come to mind is, could it have been prevented by law authorities present in the place? Could they have frisked or examined young patrons wearing dark shades at night doing head banging and acting like crazy, and maybe avert disaster? The general rule is that if a police officer does not have a search warrant, they need to leave people alone, even if they are a bit unruly, so long as they do not appear to be committing a crime. This however has useful exceptions.

One popular exception of a valid warrantless search is the stop and frisk. A leading case involves members of the Integrated National Police of Davao, who stopped and frisked a man carrying a buri bag and acting suspiciously. It was found that the bag contained guns, ammunitions and grenade. The court upheld the validity of the warrantless search, stating even that to require a warrant under the circumstances would have been useless and too late. In another case, a man with reddish eyes and who couldn’t walk straight was stopped and frisked. Marijuana leaves were found in his wallet by the police who worked for a narcotics unit.

Note that the above examples of valid stop-and-frisks are based on suspicions, and suspicions can easily be abused because anyone could have a suspicion on anyone. The Supreme Court cautioned that what is critical is that the officer having the suspicion should have the proper training for it. Thus in the concert grounds where some patrons could be high on drugs, the stop and frisk could be conducted, but not just by any policeman. It should be conducted by police or NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) agents with narcotics training or agents of Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), for instance.

Two of those who fell unconscious in concert grounds, based on reports, were students who even came from the same school. This emphasizes the need for schools, who by law stand in as parents of students in their care, to conduct drug tests of students – seriously. Students have less rights to privacy. The law allows the schools to conduct mandatory random (unannounced) testing, and this is valid because no one is singled out.

The schools must not be naive in the conduct of these tests. Students who use drugs can easily borrow urine samples of their “clean” classmates to pass the test. This actually happens! And schools that are too trusting or maybe careless are conducting useless tests because drug users will be wise not to easily get caught. All schools must also have an active whistle blower policy and an easy avenue to allow students to tell on their classmates who are into drugs. The risk of harassment is certainly outweighed by the prospects of saving of a life.

We cannot judge parents, as most would rather trust that their children will do the right thing. In tragedies like this, parents are pushed to review their policy about the amount of financial allowance they give their children, but more importantly, the level of independence they allow their children to have. Maybe full trust should be withheld, for their own good.

The thing about drug offenses is that possession of illegal substances is punishable by imprisonment, which can be six to 12 years. However, if one is a drug dependent, he is not put in jail but instead put into rehabilitation. There is no jail time after treatment. To state a technicality, it is better to be a constant user than to be merely in possession of drugs under the law. When one is in possession, he is a violator. When one is a dependent, he is considered a victim. I understand the rule as a lawyer, but the law must be reviewed to pose a deterrent rather than a law that encourages the act it seeks to prevent.

I cannot venture on what the government should do. It is out of my league, and maybe I will not revolt against hanging by the plaza, or putting agents in clubs and bars. What dumbfounds me though seems to be the lack of or subtlety of public outrage, the suffering in silence, the passive commiseration of parents and schools and teachers. Who cares about the cries of the children of great potential but who would not live to see their dreams come true? Who cares to hear the cries of parents who exist, torn from the inside, with no explanation or consolation? Who cares to make a public outrage before another young and stupid falls?

* * *

Alexander B. Cabrera is the chairman and senior partner of Isla Lipana & Co./PwC Philippines. He also chairs the Educated Marginalized Entrepreneurs Resource Generation (EMERGE) program of the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP). Email your comments and questions to aseasyasABC@ph.pwc.com. This content is for general information purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional advisors.

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