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Sunday, May 19, 2024

The war on drugs

“The outgoing regime has concluded that the drug problem has grown too big beyond its capability to control.”

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With outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte urging the incoming Marcos administration to continue the war on illegal drugs—and the president-elect agreeing in principle with his predecessor—there’s the danger that a return to the ‘take-no-prisoners’ approach and its violent and bloody outcome since 2016—could well be replicated and even take center stage in the months ahead.

We have no quarrel with combating illegal drugs with every weapon at the disposal of the State, particularly if targeted at the big-time drug traffickers and their coddlers in government. But we have a big problem with the police terminating with extreme prejudice even the drug dependents who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and find themselves invariably depicted in police reports as ‘nanlaban’, the rule of law and due process be damned.

Now, with a new administration poised to take over the reins of government by July 1st, there’s been conflicting views on what should be done with it. Will continue it with the same “kill, kill, kill” approach that Duterte preferred, or temper both the punitive aspect with the treatment and rehabilitation component?

The outgoing regime has concluded that the drug problem has grown too big beyond its capability to control. And the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) apparently wants the war on drugs to be the agency’s priority under the Marcos administration.

Interior Undersecretary Epimaco Densing III said the supposedly lower crime rate brought investors to the country. He did not, however, cite any data to back up his conclusion.

“This is a very important thing. Because the crime rate is down, many investors came to the Philippines because our peace and order situation is good. I am hoping this continues,” he intoned.

The official said it is up to the next administration how it would carry out its anti-narcotics campaign, but suggested its initial phase could be implemented in Metro Manila.

“We will brief the incoming secretary Benhur Abalos. Then we will leave it up to them if they will continue the project or revive it in the next administration. But it is a good peace and order program and for the security for our people,” Densing said.

The DILG’s stand, however, might not be consistent with what President-elect Marcos, Jr. and Vice-President-elect Sara Duterte-Carpio said: that they would “add heart” to Duterte’s drug war, citing the importance of rehabilitation and livelihood opportunities for recovering drug users.

Do you still remember that a Chinese businessman who started small in Manila’s Chinatown but became very rich over the years decided to give back to the country by donating money for the construction of a huge 10,000-capacity drug rehabilitation facility in Nueva Ecija province?

Whatever happened to it? We haven’t heard news about it but the little that we’ve read in news reports is that only a few hundred drug dependents actually used the facility, and that it’s been converted to other uses, since it’s located near a huge army camp in the province.

In short, the Duterte government did not seem to give any priority to the rehabilitation of drug dependents but concentrated more on eliminating anyone involved in illegal drugs, whether casual drug user, street-level dealer, or big-time trafficker.

Duterte has emphasized that his successor should continue to fight illegal drugs, and that it “has to be a war.”

That’s what’s disturbing, as all-out war against illegal drugs as what has happened since 2016 caused too many lives lost and yet the drug problem persists.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) last year authorized an investigation into alleged crimes against humanity on the administration’s flagship program, but it has been suspended to assess the scope of the country’s deferral request.

Will the Marcos administration allow the ICC to do its probe? That we’ll have to see.

Meanwhile, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) has said its latest report on the drug war situation in the country has “encouraged a culture of impunity” as it failed to respect and protect the rights of Filipinos.

While acting presidential spokesperson Martin Andanar said it is “pleased that the CHR has independently exercised its mandate”, the Palace also sees a “rehash of old issues” in the report.

“It’s not a rehash because actually, we released a partial investigation report last year but this is a continuation of a report on the national scale,” according to the agency.

In its 48-page report titled “Investigated Killings In Relation to the Anti-Illegal Drug Campaign” released recently, the CHR concluded that police officers involved in the drug war” showed “intent to kill” and used “excessive force” in its anti-illegal drug operations.

The CHR study analyzed 882 case dockets involving 1,139 victims. Of this, 920 were killed, while seven cases have remained shrouded in mystery.

Even more disturbing is the recent statement of outgoing President Duterte that after he leaves Malacañang on June 30, he will go back to Davao City and continue his brutal crusade against illegal drugs: “I’ll search for drug peddlers, shoot them, and kill them.”

Not good, not good at all, if you ask us, for the rule of law and due process in this country.

(Email: ernhil@yahoo.com)

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