The war on drugs that works for me

THE CORNER ORACLE - Andrew J. Masigan (The Philippine Star) - November 20, 2019 - 12:00am

I have always had mixed feelings about the war on drugs. While I realize that illegal narcotics is a serious problem, I don’t think it merits being the centerpiece agenda of the President. I reckon the country has more serious problems to deal with, not the least of which is poverty. Even today, despite the economy’s growth of six percent or more, I worry that our growth is driven by public consumption and government spending. The former is fueled by OFW remittances while the latter is funded by debt. Unlike economies that are based on investments, manufacturing and real productivity, ours sits on hollow grounds.

Maybe my preoccupation about the economy stems from my being an economist. The President is a lawyer, so perhaps he has other priorities. To each his own.

Since the war on drugs began, the Philippine National Police reported that 193,086 drug personalities were arrested, 7,054 of whom were high value targets. So far, at least 334 drug dens were dismantled and 14 drug labs were razed. A total of 4,409 kilos of shabu were seized amounting to P34.75 billion. The death toll stands at 5,526 people, the majority of whom are users from poor families.

What do these numbers tell us? Is government winning the war? Well, yes and no. YES because for the first time since the Metrocom days of Marcos, government has cracked down on users and pushers. As a result, drug related crimes have dropped dramatically across the land. This is an enormous accomplishment on its own. NO because the Chinese triads who control the smuggling and production of crystal meth remain in operation. Disruption of their trade has been minimal. Out of the estimated 2,000 kilos of shabu that is distributed throughout the country every month, only about a third is intercepted by government.

The painful reality is that government’s overarching strategy of scaring users into sobriety and engaging in buy-bust operations have reached its limits. Something else needs to be done to take this war to higher gear. This is why I welcome the appointment of Vice President Leni Robredo as the co-chair of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-illegal Drugs (ICAD). It is a chance to reboot, recalibrate and re-strategize this war, hopefully with better results.

I must say that VP Leni’s acceptance of the job was a masterstroke on her part. Not only will it give her a chance to prove that the war can be fought within the bounds of the law, it also gives her a national platform to show her mettle. The fact that she accepted the job without a clear definition of its parameters spoke of courage too. It proved that not even the specter of being used as Malacañang’s scapegoat fazes her. She displayed readiness to be deployed to the trenches despite hidden minefields aplenty.

I am in no position to dictate how the Vice President should go about her job as ICAD’s co-chair. But as a citizen, this is what I would like to see.

A commitment to transparency. With the exception of sensitive information, the statistics and developments on the war on drugs should no longer be cloaked in secrecy. Doing so only raises doubts and unfair judgement toward government given the absence of context. This time around, transparency should be the norm. This way, government can gauge the true pulse of the people with regards to its tactics and adjust accordingly. After all, this war is the people’s war too, not just government’s.

Besides, considering how much this war is costing is in terms of taxpayers money and in foregone grants and investments from foreign governments, the public deserves to know the real score.

Adherence to the rule of law. Not even an all out war nor a national catastrophe justifies the defiance of the law. All citizens, especially government, must respect the law as without it, chaos and mayhem will ensue. To disregard the law makes us no better than animals where only the powerful and ruthless survive. Thankfully, we are not animals… we have been made to think, to be compassionate, to be human and humane.

The law is the great equalizer it protects the weak and does so by allowing them the right to due process. This is especially important as many of the casualties of this war are addicts belonging to disadvantaged families.

Accountability from law enforcers. I understand that violence and the shedding of blood are inevitable consequences of this war. However, there is no excuse for abuse. To give abusive law enforcers a free pass on the back of this war sends a signal that accountability is selective. This is a dangerous road to tread as it undermines the integrity of the law.

The rule of law is like a length of rope that ties our civilized society together. Each time the law is undermined by the very people who should enforce them, it weakens until it finally snaps.

Attack the source, not the users. The importers and producers of illegal narcotics are the real culprits here. Most of them are not even Filipinos. They benefit at the expense of the health and wellbeing of our countrymen. They are the real enemies.

With supply curtailed, price elasticity will take over. Drugs will become too expensive for the regular citizens to afford.

Embrace the international community, not shun them. I have spoken to numerous ambassadors and representatives of foreign governments about the drug war and all, without exception, support the noble cause. Complications only arise when human rights violations come into play. Having said that, there is a wealth of support we can get from the international community in the form of aid, intelligence, best practices and cooperation. It would be foolhardy for us not to tap this resource.

The war on drugs has turned a new page with the Vice President as the protagonist. We wish her well and hope that this government will allow her to succeed.

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