Dead end

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan - The Philippine Star

Take it from a boomer President: enforcement as a component of the campaign against illegal drugs “only gets you so far.”

But the new government can “examine and learn lessons from the experience of the past administration,” President Marcos told a forum in New York organized by the Asia Society last Friday.

Bongbong Marcos entered his teenage years during the psychedelic era of sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll, when LSD became widely available, scrambling people’s brains (but also inspiring out-of-the-box ideas among notable innovators such as Apple’s Steve Jobs).

BBM’s father Ferdinand Senior ended this era in the country, banning “bomba” porn movies along with rock music, shutting down rock station dzRJ and the irreverent Jingle chordbook-magazine.

Among the first acts of the martial law regime was also the execution of heroin trafficker Lim Seng by firing squad at Fort Bonifacio on Jan. 15, 1973. The 52-year-old businessman was caught just days after martial law was declared in September 1972, with the help of US drug enforcement agents.

Lim Seng was believed to have supplied up to 10 percent of the heroin in the US. The heroin was reportedly processed in the Philippines from materials he procured from the opium growers of Southeast Asia’s Golden Triangle.

The execution probably cut off the heroin supply, but failed to stop drug abuse and trafficking in the country. Growing up under martial law in Manila’s Tondo and Sta. Cruz districts, I met many dealers of marijuana obtained from plantations mostly in the Cordilleras. None of the dealers was older than 30; most were still in their late teens.

They were experts at faking “yellow prescriptions” to buy regulated stimulants such as Dexedrine and Benzedrine (“dexies” and “bennies”), “downers” such as Valium and phenobarbital and even the antipsychotic drug Thorazine – from small drug stores along Rizal Avenue and nearby streets in Sta. Cruz. They also knew which cough syrup brands had sufficient concentrations of codeine and ephedrine that could induce a high (Big Pharma later reformulated the cough syrups to stop this abuse).

Those folks all understood what the Jefferson Airplane’s Grace Slick was referring to when she crooned, “One pill makes you larger and one pill makes you small, and the ones that mother gives you don’t do anything at all…”

Heroin, morphine, cocaine and LSD became hard to come by, but the buzz in those days was that this was the situation only for the poor and middle-income dopeheads, while rich users continued to have access to those expensive mind-altering drugs.

Unlike Rodrigo Duterte, younger generations understand the complexity of the continuing demand that drives the illegal drug trade, one of the most profitable enterprises on the planet.

*      *      *

BBM, at the Asia Society, said his administration’s campaign against the drug menace has three components: enforcement, prevention and cure.

“Now, as to the enforcement, to put it very bluntly, I simply told (the police), ‘Look, I’m not interested in the kid who makes P100 a week selling weed. That’s not the person that I want you to go after,’ ” Marcos said.

That was a jab, probably unintended, at his predecessor. Duterte was defensive about the fact that his drug war exterminated mostly the penny-ante neighborhood pushers, while top traffickers on the most wanted list of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) went scot-free.

Marcos said he also told the police: “I want you to go after people who – if we get them, if we neutralize them or put them in jail, we put them away, whatever it is that will make an actual difference, so that the supply of drugs, the system of distribution, the system of importation of drugs, because much of it really does come from abroad – that will actually make a difference, it will put a stop to it. And that’s what we are working on right now.”

Prevention includes educating the youth on the perils of drug abuse, he said, so they will know that “this is a dead end, this will get you absolutely nowhere. It will get you put in jail. It will get you killed. And even if it does not do that, this will take away your future.”

Several of those dopeheads I met in fact died of drug overdose before they reached 30 years old.

In the case of Duterte, police reported killing over 6,000 drug suspects ostensibly for resisting arrest or nanlaban.

Commenting on the drug killings under Duterte, Marcos told The Associated Press in New York: “His people went too far sometimes.”

“We have seen many cases where policemen, other operatives, some were just shady characters that we didn’t quite know where they came from and who they were working for. But now we’ve gone after them,” Marcos told AP.

*      *      *

He told the Asia Society forum that there are nearly 4.5 million drug addicts in the Philippines.

We don’t know who provided that figure. In the previous administration, Duterte quoted different numbers that he seemed to pluck out of thin air, which confounded even the Philippine National Police and PDEA. Shifting benchmarks made it difficult for the PNP and PDEA to declare with certainty that the government was winning the war against the drug menace.

Duterte himself gave his own honest verdict, near the end of his six years as president: he had underestimated the magnitude of the problem, he admitted, and the war on drugs would just have to be sustained by his successor.

The successor clearly has other ideas. Even the new PNP chief, Rodolfo Azurin, has publicly declared a marked departure from the bloody, take-no-prisoners approach of the previous administration.

As we can glean from the latest statements of BBM, Azurin was expressing the preferred approach of the President to the drug menace.

Such pronouncements have been reassuring for human rights advocates, who are waiting for significant progress in the probe of possible extrajudicial killings in the conduct of Duterte’s war on drugs.

There are people watching from the sidelines, waiting for the chance to tell the new administration that the new approach is folly.

BBM will have to show them that the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime is correct in its latest statement, that “drug control obligations and human rights obligations are compatible, complementary and mutually reinforcing.”


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