‘Prolife, propoor’ stance on drugs
On at least two occasions in October, before different audiences, President Duterte raised a favorite talking point of his: If it seems like poor Filipinos are ending up inordinately targeted by his war on drugs, that’s because they are the main market of shabu or crystal meth — “a deadly mix of chemicals that melts and shrinks the brain,” he said. The rich, meanwhile, use cocaine, which “comes from a plant called poppy and it does not really necessarily destroy the brain.”
He added that the supposed warped brains of impoverished drug users explain why they inevitably fight it out with the police and get killed, while the rich users of the allegedly less potent cocaine don’t — or, otherwise, would bring with them high-powered firearms, which would presumably prevent any firefight from occurring. “Kung taga-Forbes yan, magdala ng M60 yan (If the guy’s from Forbes, he’d bring an M60).”
The President cited no independent studies to back his rich-poor dichotomy of drug use and its effects, but the consequences of such a policy, as it is, have been profound and painful.
As of the third quarter of 2017, over half of adult Filipinos, or about 6 of 10, believe only the poor are killed in the brutal campaign against illegal drugs, according to the latest Social Weather Stations survey.
A solid majority of 54 percent of the citizenry aged 18 years and above agreed with the statement that “Hindi pinapatay ang mga mayayaman na drug pusher; ang mga pinapatay ay ang mahihirap lamang (Rich drug pushers are not killed; only the poor ones are killed).”
This ties in with another SWS finding released in early October which showed that, while Mr. Duterte’s net satisfaction rating dropped in all geographic areas (except in Mindanao) as well as socioeconomic classes, the steepest decline was registered in Classes D and E, or the country’s poorest.
The drop was a startling 17 points, reflecting widespread dissatisfaction among a sector that, while bearing the brunt of grinding institutional poverty, now also finds itself in the pitiless crosshairs of the administration’s war on drugs.
The souring public mood gave the Palace pause, such that the President has been constrained to transfer all drug-related operations from the controversy-riddled Philippine National Police to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency.
In an apparent effort to further stanch the damage and regain public trust, the Dangerous Drugs Board, PDEA’s mother agency, has rolled out a new slogan, “Love Life, Fight Drugs,” that, according to newly appointed DDB chair Dionisio Santiago, signals a new direction and mindset for the program.
“This campaign aims to change the prevailing law-enforcement-focused narrative of the antidrug campaign,” Santiago was reported as saying. “The fight against drugs is about protecting the life of the people. It is about the life of a drug user who needs help to free himself or herself from drug dependence.”
In a surprising departure from official doctrine, Santiago acknowledged that the drug problem is rooted in something more complex: the social inequality entrenched in the country. The issue of drugs is a poverty issue, he said, with many destitute Filipinos forced by hunger and sickness to resort to crime, such as drug-running, to survive. The problem is “prevalent in marginalized communities — understandable [because] you have no options,” he said.
What the DDB calls its new “prolife, propoor” strategy is awaiting Malacañang’s approval, so it remains to be seen how Dionisio’s promised holistic, rehabilitative philosophy will square with the lifelong take-no-prisoners world view of his boss. Will Mr. Duterte bite and change tack himself?
The stakes are immense for both the DDB and the country. If it gets the Palace’s green light, the DDB cannot drop the ball on its proposed approach — or the administration would find in that failure the perfect excuse to again take up its discredited bloody war. Unless, of course, Dionisio is merely mouthing things that a long-suffering populace will be glad to hear. The record of his past stint with the PDEA is not encouraging.
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