Drugs can be eliminated without curtailing rights

Karapatan Position Paper Submitted to the Public Hearing  of the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights

August 22-23, 2016 | by Cristina Palabay, Secretary General, Karapatan


Pres. Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly stated that one of the biggest problems in Philippine society is the proliferation of illegal drugs and the evils that come with it. The heinousness of crimes brought about by drug addiction is undeniable - the rapes and murders of women and young girls, even babies and mothers, the butchered bodies, and all else inhuman. While it is true, that this problem should be cut to the core, the solution is not as easy as one would exterminate termites.

Duterte’s crusade would have been easier if government bureaucracy is not corrupt. Policemen are mandated to seize illegal drugs being peddled in communities, protect the residents especially the youth from these harmful substances, and put the dealers/suppliers to jail. But many of them have been doing exactly the opposite.

Some elements among the police force, most of the time in cahoots with local government officials, protect the government bureaucrats, big syndicates and those involved down the line of the drug trade. Why?  Because they profit from the illicit trade and are actually part of the whole racket.

After buy-bust operations when dealers or syndicate bosses are arrested, court proceedings take years to reach the trial phase or, with even less probability, a conviction. Drug lords influence court decisions with guns, money and grave threats with the help of their patrons from government. If ever arrested, prison becomes the drug lords’ den; and worse, a satellite laboratory for illegal substances. With the right amount of money, guns and political connections, the drug trade proliferates, whether drug lords are behind bars or scot free.

Pres. Duterte apparently knows this, so he took another route to solve the problem. Forcible surrender and order of battle listing by the Philippine National Police (PNP) against suspected drug lords and members of drug syndicates are causing nationwide outcry by the opposition invoking due process. But what is more worrisome and truly condemnable are the arbitrary and extrajudicial killings of small-time suspected pushers and users, including minors, mostly from the poor sectors.

The killings are either done as punishment in the name of Duterte’s campaign against drugs or are perpetrated to silence those who might turn witness and expose details of the drug manufacture and trade. Either way, the drug-related killings in poor communities have become too rampant.

Duterte should say the word and act on it: Stop the Killings! Otherwise, his anti-drugs quips encourage, rather than decisively halt the rampant killings without due process of suspects in drug-related cases. The President should prosecute and hold accountable the perpetrators of the extrajudicial killings, including those from the police.

The illegal drugs business preys on the large populace of the poor. Poverty makes them increasingly vulnerable to the drug trade, many of them using drugs to temporarily escape from their unaddressed problems of hunger, joblessness, lack of social services and of opportunities. The easy cash that the drug trade offers is too tempting for the hungry.

It is enraging to see that the drug business makes profit by taking advantage of the poverty of the many, while it is the poor person’s blood that is shed when government tries to eliminate the drug menace. The police enjoys too much of their authority that the abuses against civilians speak of one thing – impunity.

Enlisting the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in the anti-drugs campaign is even more alarming, given the sordid human rights record of the military and its propensity to use the campaign for counter-insurgency purposes. The use of the military, vigilante groups and other mercenaries in so-called wars against drugs is a concept that has been peddled by the United States government in countries such as Mexico and Colombia through the Merida Initiative. It is a form of military intervention which justifies American military and financial support for governments to maintain and protect US political and economic influence. It has been proven that US-funded drug wars have not eliminated the drug menace, but have targetted the civilian population in countries struggling for change. What the US government has so often swept under the rug is its own role in the proliferation of the drugs through covert operations of its intelligence agency and the military industrial complex.

Pres. Duterte’s hatred of the evils of the drug trade may be out of his sincere concern for the people, but a purely law enforcement method usually results in human rights violations. The drug menace can be eliminated without curtailing the basic rights of the people, especially of the poor. In fact, it is through upholding the rights of the people, especially social and economic rights, that the people can repudiate the use and trade of illegal drugs.

The government should instead strive to improve the living conditions of the Filipinos, especially the marginalized, by providing them secure jobs with living wages, free education and health care, and land to cultivate. By encouraging the people to organize themselves into unions, cooperatives, community and sectoral organizations, they will learn more and more that united efforts bear more fruits than isolated individual striving. It is through empowering the people and helping them provide for their needs that they will turn away from drugs.  There will be no need for them to sell drugs for little cash. 

The system that breeds the proliferation of drugs is the same one that causes unrest among the Filipinos. Thus, it is important that the root causes of poverty and others that give rise to armed conflict be addressed thoroughly.  The peace process and the people’s movement for meaningful, comprehensive and fundamental change are welcome efforts at this point.