CHR backs bill seeking drug treatment centers, urges rights-based approach

CHR backs bill seeking drug treatment centers, urges rights-based approach
File photo shows police investigating the death of a victim of the Duterte government's so-called war on drugs.
AFP / Noel Celis, file

MANILA, Philippines — The Commission on Human Rights on Tuesday lauded the bill seeking drug abuse and treatment centers in the provinces but called for a human rights-based approach prioritizing health, rehabilitation, and socio-economic interventions for the recovery of drug users.

In a statement sent to reporters Tuesday morning, the CHR said it was willing to work with the office of Sen. Bong Go, who filed Senate Bill No. 48 seeking to establish a Drug Abuse Treatment and Rehabilitation Center in every province.

“While it is true that the national government has consistently centered its campaign against drugs on crime prevention and eradication, it has not lost sight of its duty to aid in the recovery of those whose lives have been destroyed by illegal drugs," the bill's explanatory note reads. Of note, Go acknowledged the need to consider drug addicts as “victims."

Though it admitted "the harms and social cost of drugs and substance abuse to people and communities," the CHR urged a bill that is more consistent with international human rights standards.

CHR executive director Jacqueline de Guia recommended a human rights-based approach to drug treatment and recovery as she called for the closure of compulsory centers for drug use and instead investing in voluntary community-based approaches.

De Guia lauded the "intent" of the proposed measure but urged "a restorative justice perspective in addressing the drug problem" to "enhance former drug users' physical, psychological and social capability to cope with common problems complemented with social reintegration services."

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and his appointed law enforcement officials have all vowed to continue the Duterte administration's campaign against illegal narcotics but with a different approach. 

Under President Rodrigo Duterte's flagship campaign against illegal narcotics, official police figures acknowledge at least 6,117 deaths in anti-drug operations since July 2016. Police leadership earlier claimed the number was as high as 8,000 but eventually dialed this back by thousands without explanation. However, rights groups both here and abroad say the real number may be as high as 30,000. 

Right to health, rehabilitation

The commission also hit compulsory centers where those known or accused of using drugs are involuntarily admitted for claimed treatment for violating a criminal or civil law, or government policy on drug use.

It said that the mandatory nature of rehabilitation "breaches a person’s right to health, particularly when it comes to the acceptability and quality of intended interventions."

"In the Philippines, the distinction between jails and rehabilitation centers blurs as people are often confronted with the choice to be imprisoned or bargain for lesser penalty that usually comes with a commitment for compulsory rehabilitation," it said. 

In accordance with standards in upholding the right to health, access to voluntary and evidence-based services must be done, instead of compulsory methods that breach the right to informed consent.

Beyond a human-rights and healthcare-based approached, the CHR also recommended that the proposed measure pivot towards voluntary community-based responses and to treat drug dependence as a health condition through evidence-informed and rights-based approaches.

The commission also stressed that "a genuinely person-centered approach towards rehabilitation should seek to empower people who use drugs instead of perpetuating stigmatizing perspectives and language that diminish human dignity."

"Using the term 'addicts' and 'victims' to describe people who use drugs is disempowering and can be used as justification to remove their autonomy and coerce them into programs and treatments. We urge the creation of an enabling environment that will encourage people who use drugs to voluntarily seek treatment and support," it said. 

"In a similar vein, we caution against the continued use of a watch list, which subjects people who use drugs to surveillance, including surveillance drug test. We reiterate that this practice contravenes the fundamental rights to due process and the right to privacy and confidentiality...We continue to hope for a humane, long-term, and sustainable policy shift in the drug campaign to truly address the complexity of the problem."





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