"We cannot kill our way out of the drug problem."
This was the statement of Akbayan Senator Risa Hontiveros on Monday as she filed a bill that seeks to replace the government’s corrupt and abusive anti-drug campaign with an “alternative health and law enforcement strategy” to address the country’s drug problem.
In a press conference together with different health advocates and community leaders, Hontiveros presented to the public Senate Bill No. 1313 otherwise known as the "Barangay Health and Rehabilitation Strategy Act of 2017”. Hontiveros said that her bill aims to provide a comprehensive public health approach to the country’s drug policy and establish appropriate barangay-based programs and services for drug-related issues and concerns.
“The suspension of Oplan Tokhang is a recognition that a simplistic crime and punishment approach is simply ineffective. There is a need for a new and sustainable strategy that is humane, rehabilitative and less susceptible to abuse. We cannot kill our way out of this problem,” Hontiveros said.
“Offer hope, not death”
Hontiveros said that the mistakes and abuses of Oplan Tokhang must not be repeated. “Even as we seek justice for the innocent victims of the government’s flawed and abusive war on drugs, we will start implementing a new strategy in the barangays, particularly Pasay and Caloocan which were severely ravaged by Oplan Tokhang. We must shift our policy from simple punishment to treatment. We must offer hope not death,” Hontiveros added.
Citing data from the Dangerous Drugs Board, Hontiveros said that only about nine per cent (9%) of over a million drug users who expressed their willingness to access treatment needed to be committed in rehabilitation centers. Ninety one per cent (91%) did not need institutionalized intervention. “Without any government program to address their needs, they remain in the “Kill List.” The government response is currently limited to criminal prosecution and facility-based rehabilitation. These are clearly inadequate,” she said.
Barangay-based rehabilitation centers and programs
Hontiveros, who is the Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Health, said that she wants to create a Health Intervention for Drug Use Bureau (HIDUB) which will establish and implement along with local government units (LGUs) a National Health Intervention for Drug Use Program, absorbing existing drug abuse treatment and rehabilitation programs of the Department of Health (DoH).
The senator, who pointed to the success of Barangay Culiat in implementing her proposed strategy, said that her bill also seeks to create barangay-based health intervention and rehabilitation programs and centers for drug dependents to be able to provide intervention programs to respond to the assessed needs of drug dependents, which include consultation, case management, psycho-education, counseling, health and social support, relapse management, and other evidence-based health interventions and strategies.
Alternative drug law enforcement strategy targeting big-time drug syndicates
Meanwhile, Hontiveros said that a public health approach to the drug problem must be complemented by a “rules-based and modern drug law enforcement strategy" targeting big-time drug syndicates. She said that the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) must take the lead, with the Philippine National Police (PNP) taking a coordinative role in the conduct of anti-drug operations.
"The government must bring the campaign to the drug lords and not to the poor. As such, side by side with a public health approach, our drug law enforcement strategy must shift focus to organized drug syndicates. We must focus on crimes associated with big drug operations, such as money laundering and extortion. We must also strengthen border control in international airports and seaports, and heighten operations against cross-country narco trafficking,” Hontiveros explained.
Hontiveros said that her alternative law enforcement strategy has five major pillars:
1.Internal cleansing of law enforcement agencies to ensure that they are not infiltrated by elements corrupted by drug syndicates.
2. Replenish ranks of law enforcers with new agents who are impervious to police corruption. Salaries and benefits must be increased to attract the “best and brightest”.
3. Mobilization of government resources to fund modern crime-fighting and solving infrastructure and capability enhancement programs, such as a nationwide automated crime reporting system, security-camera command centers in police districts and stations, air assets and modern laboratory equipments which can be used for more thorough and extensive substance analysis.
4.Strengthened community policing as a response to reactive, incident-driven law enforcement work.
5. Focus law enforcement resources on big-time drug lords and syndicates.
Hontiveros filed the bill together with advocates from the No Box Transitions Philippines, Sustained Health Initiatives of the Philippines (SHIP) and community leaders from Barangay Culiat, Quezon City.