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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Hontiveros: The Philippines’ War on Drugs is a Deadly Failure


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"Magandang umaga po sa inyong lahat!. I’d like to thank the men and women of the Philippine Social Science Council, International Alert Inc., and the Philippine Criminal Justice Researchers Society Inc for their hard work in putting this event together, and for having me here today. To my fellow guests and speakers, it is an honor to be with you, as we tackle what is in my view, a corrupt and morally bankrupt campaign, delivered under the guise of salvation from an all-encompassing enemy.

The war on drugs is a deadly failure. It is a war without end, and with no victory. It is a promise of misery and death. The President told his supporters he would rid the country of our drug problem by killing all of its drug addicts and pushers– going as far as saying he’d have his own children killed if he found out that they were involved with drugs. He does not apologize for this, and has tolerated the ensuing death toll, blithely dismissing the death of innocent victims as collateral damage. He has incited violence on more than one occasion, and indeed continues to do so. In his own words, and I quote: “Hitler massacred three million Jews. Now, there are three million drug addicts. I’d be happy to slaughter them.” “When you kill criminals that is not a crime against humanity. The criminals have no humanity goddam it!” If I was to make a preliminary assessment of this campaign since it began in July 1 of last year, the numbers bear themselves out. The war is an abysmal failure, and I’d like to present my case for saying so. Let’s begin with some of its results.

More than 7,000 civilians have died in this campaign. Among its victims are Maximo Garcia, who was killed by an unknown assailant despite surrendering to the police after being told he was part of the government’s narco list, and his 5-year-old granddaughter Danica, who was literally caught in the crossfire. I also remember Rowena Tiamson, a graduating honor student from Pangasinan, whose body was found lifeless in Barangay Parian, with nothing but a cardboard sign saying “pusher, huwag tularan” as proof of her guilt. There are Domingo Mañosca and his five-year-old son Francis. Both died last December 14 when shots were fired through the plywood window of their house in Manila. All anti-drug related operations were eventually suspended on January 31 of this year after Korean businessman Jee Ick Joo was found to have been strangled to death by officers of the Philippine National Police inside its own national headquarters in Camp Crame, with his ashes being flushed down the toilet. While I welcome the suspension, the fact that it was triggered belatedly by the death of a foreign resident and not earlier by the death of suspects without proof should be more than enough to give any democratic government pause.

But the greater danger of the campaign lies not just in the continued loss of life. It has institutionalized violence. It has conditioned the minds of many in our country that killing suspects before their guilt can be proven is acceptable. The public does not know the basis behind the creation of the narco list which is the key document in Oplan Tokhang, and instead is asked to take its veracity on faith. Police officers are given quotas to “neutralize” drug suspects. And most frightening of all, it has been used by vigilantes and corrupt individuals as a cover up for singling out their own targets and committing acts of murder. And now the administration is re-launching the war on drugs. It is clear that this approach does not work. To re-instate it without first reforming our police endangers the public, and is quite frankly patently insane.

And this is all despite evidence from other parts of the world that the punitive model no longer works, if it ever did. Former Colombian President Cesar Gaviria was quoted in the New York Times as saying “President Duterte is repeating my mistakes.” We must remember that it was under Gavina’s administration that Pablo Escobar, the leader and founder of the Medellin Cartel, was killed. Gavina has said that winning a campaign against drugs cannot be by the armed forces and law enforcement agencies alone. This is a sentiment reinforced by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) 2016 World Drug Report. To quote: “The failure to accept or understand that drug dependence is a health condition feeds the cycle of marginalization that often affects people with drug use disorders, making their recovery and social integration more challenging.” This is why I am proposing an alternative which emphasizes the public health approach and a revamped strategy to law enforcement. This alternative is Senate Bill 1313, otherwise known as “The Barangay Health and Rehabilitation Strategy Act of 2017.”

The bill mandates the creation of a Health Intervention for Drug Use Bureau (HIDUB) which will implement a National Health Intervention for Drug Use Program in cooperation with local government units. This proposed new bureau will absorb the existing drug use treatment and rehabilitation programs of the Department of Health (DOH). We also propose the creation of barangay based rehabilitation programs to assess the needs of identified drug dependents in their area and respond to them. Some of the proposed services include consultation, case management, psycho-education, counseling, health and social support, and relapse management along with other evidence based health interventions and strategies.

Addressing the drug problem requires efforts on multiple fronts, and we understand that any successful intervention will need the help of effective and well-placed law enforcement. As such, we propose an approach to law enforcement that rests on five pillars:

1. Conduct the internal cleansing of law enforcement agencies to ensure that they aren’t infiltrated by elements corrupted by drug syndicates.

2. Replenish the ranks of law enforcers with new agents who are impervious to corruption. Salaries and benefits must be increased to attract the ‘best and the brightest.

3. Mobilize 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 equipment which can be used for more thorough substance analysis.

4. Strengthen community policing as a response to reactive incident-driven law enforcement work.

5. Focus law enforcement efforts against big time drug syndicates.

Now I know what some of you must be thinking. Is the police force really this bad? Aren’t these supposed to be the very people we trust to keep us safe? I am a PNP widow, and so are the wives of the fallen SAF 44. And I can tell you from personal experience that there are many reform-minded PNP officers, that there are those who believe that what we see of the police now is a far cry not only from their ideals, but the nobility of the sacrifice that outstanding officers continue to make every day. This bill does not seek to besmirch or cast doubt on the PNP itself. Rather, it seeks to hold our men and women in uniform to a higher standard. It is an earnest attempt to put things in place so that the PNP is given the opportunity to reclaim the public’s trust, and in so doing fulfill not only its mandate, but also live up to its promise.

Complex problems are never solved with quick fixes and simplistic solutions. I can understand the frustration on the part of the ordinary citizen. I can completely empathize with the agonizing desire for change, and the idea that any change, no matter how seemingly cruel, is better than none at all. But I will also stand my ground, and challenge that idea with another: Silence is not the same as peace, and submission is not the same as safety. Let us recognize that those who struggle with substance abuse are people who felt pain, reached out to society for help, didn’t find It, and so turned to something else. It is easy to cast them aside, embrace violence and say ‘they have made their choice, and we must get rid of them for the sake of this world. This is the only way.’ To this I say that we must continue to seek a better way, and this is for the sake of all our worlds.

Marami pong salamat at mabuhay kayong lahat!"

Speech of Senator Risa Hontiveros
Philippine Social Science Council and Philippine Criminal Justice Researchers Society
March 15, 2017

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