"Corruption and illegal drugs will remain with us for a long time."
In 2016, when Mayor Rodrigo Roa Duterte was a presidential candidate, he vowed that he would stop the proliferation of illegal drugs in six months, and that he would also end corruption and criminality.
When the six-month mark came, he moved his deadline to a year. That, too, came and went, and now the illegal drugs trade continues.
In fact, things turned from bad to worse because there was also the issue of extra-judicial killings and impunity in the Philippine National Police. Under “Operation Tokhang.” cops knocked on the doors of suspected drug users and dealers. If they resisted arrest—“nanlaban”—they got killed.
Billions of pesos worth of illegal drugs continue to be smuggled through Customs, known as a graft-ridden agency. Drug syndicates from abroad—from China and Mexico—are having a field day. Because the demand is great, shabu laboratories proliferate nationwide.
Despite the pandemic, we read about buy-bust operations being conducted.
According to official figures, some 8,000 drug users and pushers have been killed. However, some estimates place the death toll at anywhere between 28,000 and 8,000.
With the continued campaign against illegal drugs, another issue has come up—violation of human rights. Duterte is obstinate, however, saying that he would not allow international human rights advocates to come here because that would constitute interference in our internal affairs.
The results of Mr. Duterte’s drugs war are manifold. Senator Leila de Lima, once a chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights, is now in jail for allegedly conniving with convicted drug lords at the New Bilibid Prisons for the trafficking of drugs there.
But witnesses have failed to prove these allegations. There is enough reason for the Regional Trial Court to release her or at least grant her bail.
Duterte’s war on government corruption also continues. Still, there appears to have been no dent. Eradicating government corruption is an exercise in futility. The reason is that corruption will continue to be embedded in government so long as there is human discretion and intervention. This is why at the Bureau of Customs, corruption is so rampant. No amount of change at the top levels can change it. The President is also making it worse when he recycles corrupt officials.
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I know a little about the illegal drug problem. For a time, I was vice president of the DARE Foundation when the former priest Bob Garon was its president. As long as there is demand for illegal drugs, there will be cartels and syndicates ready to supply that demand.
Note that even in advanced countries like the United States, illegal drugs proliferate. Authorities cannot curb that demand.
I learned, when I was at DARE, that the only thing that can be done to reduce demand is to put up more community drug rehabilitation centers. I also learned that even rehabilitation is not a guarantee. Users build a shell around themselves, and that is difficult to break.
Drug rehabilitation is more than preventing an addict from further drug use, and putting up rehabilitation centers. These centers must have qualified experts to man them and to make sure that the addicts become productive members of society again. During my time at DARE, success was 60-70 percent. I know of some DARE graduates who went back to using drugs and eventually overdosed and died.
And corruption? Every time Duterte wages a war against it, corruption scandals from various agencies make it to our consciousness. That is what happened with PhilHealth. That is also what happened with the Department of Public Works and Highways. Secretary Mark Villar may not be involved, but how can he stop every anomalous deal? While there are honest officials like Vicente Jayme and David Consunji, many others are not.
Duterte only has two more years in his term. I am certain corruption and illegal drugs will remain long after he steps down.