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‘War on drugs will fail’

12:14 AM December 14, 2016

Canberra—A forum of Filipino scholars at the Australian National University (ANU) put under close scrutiny President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on illegal drugs, focusing on its unabated extrajudicial killings.

One of the papers presented at the forum, which was attended by both Filipino and foreign specialists on Philippine studies, startled the gathering by raising disturbing issues involving massive human rights violations in a so-called “democratic society” in the Asia-Pacific region.

The paper, submitted by Dr. Gill H. Boehringer, former head of Macquarie University School of Law, noted that it sought to discuss the issue of how to understand the war on drugs and ways of dealing with the drug problem.


In the paper’s introduction, he said, “It is important for the future of the country that such issues be openly discussed and rational policies be developed. It is also significant for the Duterte administration’s capacity to bring the many changes so desperately needed.”

Boehringer acknowledged that the question he was to comment upon was: “What could victims and lawyers do to seek justice for wrongdoing?” He emphasized that this “is a question that needs to be discussed here, in other countries and, most importantly, in the Philippines.”

He admitted that he is not a Filipino lawyer, but he said he is “sufficiently familiar with the specificities of the law” and the Constitution which might provide legal remedies.

He also said that he would neither be so “so presumptuous to suggest legal initiatives that Philippine lawyers might take in these circumstances, knowing that the lawyers of the Philippines, and especially the National Union of Peoples Lawyers, of which I am an honorary member… are ‘on the case.’”

He further made the point that “the so-called war on drugs is a state operation. . . and an obsession of the President who is seen to be strong and very popular and, therefore, while in many respects illegal under domestic and international laws, the chances are legal remedies will not be forthcoming. I offer as evidence the legalistic Supreme Court decision, a structural bias in favor of the President and/or an unwillingness to oppose him. . . . It is, then, appropriate to consider what justice may be wrested from the ‘system.’ And I use the word wrested with intent. Justice for victim, and that really means also their families. . . . the Filipino nation is not on the government’s agenda.”

Boehringer went on to indicate briefly the basic context as he sees it, and addressed the issue of justice, and then proceeded to drop the bombshell—that is, the killings in the war on drugs as heart of the government policy on the war on drugs that has divided the nation deeply. Without mincing words, his paper blasted the war on drugs, sending the government reeling on the ropes.

“The war on drugs is a misnomer.” The crackdown “is a war on people, largely the poor and, in many cases, minor offenders (assuming for the purpose of classification that they are offenders). As in all wars, there are unintended consequences, including collateral damage to innocent bystanders. Victims are ‘suspects’ only…. Victims may be users , addicts, dealers. Many at higher levels or with notoriety have been treated quite differently. Thus, there is obvious unfairness in the use of state machinery.”

The war on drugs will fail as such wars always do, Boehringer added.


President Duterte vowed to eliminate the drug menace within the first six months of his term, but is now pleading for an extension. Boehringer thinks it will be impossible to achieve this—for lack of time and resources. Sen. Panfilo Lacson said “not in a lifetime.’’ So we see the folly of the whole approach.

Boehringer said he and others had written of alternatives, so it is not as if the killings are the only viable approach.

Amando Doronila was a regular columnist of the Inquirer from 1994 to May 2016.

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TAGS: Commentary, drug war, Duterte, extrajudicial killings, opinion, war on drugs
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