Violent drug war designed to fail
BAR NONE - Atty. Ian Vincent Manticajon (The Freeman) - August 28, 2018 - 12:00am

The Archdiocese of Cebu deserves our thanks for being the latest to speak against the violence that has come to define the government’s war on drugs.

Two Sundays ago, the Church issued an “Oratio Imperata” which, while praying for the end to the spate of killings in Cebu, implies against the culture of hate and punitive populism surrounding the Duterte administration’s ruthless crackdown on illegal drugs.

This government’s all-brawn approach against the drug problem has claimed thousands of lives, packed our prisons, unduly burdened the courts, and is eroding our society’s moral fiber. The worse thing is, even after all these, the drug problem persists and we’re generally in no better situation than we were during previous administrations.

Those who criticize the Duterte administration’s handling of the drug problem are often accused of being soft on criminals. Supporters of the drug war argue that these critics cannot think of a better solution to the problem other than to condone the use and sale of drugs.

Such an argument is baseless, of course. We are aware that this violent drug war is beyond President Rodrigo Duterte. His rise to power on a platform of ruthlessness is but a symptom of a widespread frustration over a failing system.

So when we complain against rising incidents of murder, homicide, and corruption in this drug war, we do not mean to weaken the government’s resolve to end the drug problem. We simply wish to point out that there are better solutions that should not cost us our collective soul.

A cursory review of scientific evidence tends to hold that enforcement-based deterrence have generally failed, and in fact, tend to traumatize the general population. Studies show that focusing resources on punitive law enforcement and supply-side reduction is ineffective if not accompanied with programs that “meaningfully tailor drug prevention interventions.” This means that government must also engage directly with communities with people who use or are at risk of using drugs (Dan Werb, 2018, International Journal of Drug Policy).

Emphasis on law enforcement, according to Abadie, Gelpi-Acosta et al. (2018, International Journal of Drug Policy), has resulted in a disproportionately bigger number of poor jailed for non-violent drug-related crimes.

On the demand side, the war on drugs not only diverts resources from treatment but also puts at greater risk those drug users who hide from the stigma. Alternatively, shifting the emphasis from repression to treatment and rehabilitation is likely to improve the health and quality of life not just of the drug users but also of their communities.

On the supply side, Nieto-Gomez (2015, Cognitive Systems Research) proposed a term that describes the likely result of the war on drugs: Adversarial stigmergy. He argued that any success by law enforcers sends stigmergic signals to crime syndicates where the latter simply adjusts to the defeat through supply chain innovations. The result, according to Nieto-Gomez, is a more resilient system. This cycle of adversarial stigmergy has been demonstrated in the US-Mexico border where drug traffickers simply identify and exploit the vulnerabilities of law enforcement.

In the Philippines, that vulnerability in law enforcement that drug syndicates are exploiting is the entrenched corruption in the PNP. And the government’s solution is to encourage more violence by offering a reward for every “ninja” cop killed.

As organized crime and police scalawags fight back, as in the case of Mexico, the general population becomes the direct victim of the social and psychological damage (Martinez and Atuesta, 2018, International Journal of Drug Policy).

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