Is ‘shabu’ now in low supply?
The more sober supporters of the war against drugs admit that it has taken on the form of extrajudicial killings and, yes, that the death toll includes even the innocent. Many also do not debunk the widely held possibility that the killings are state-sponsored. But EJKs being a human rights violation has not yet found wide acceptability, or is being consciously denied.
The momentum for denial goes that the more tokhang occurs, the safer it will ultimately be for the country. “See how safe it is now to walk the streets at night?” is the common reprise. Yet, only last week, a 16-year-old male student was stabbed 40 times in Baguio in broad daylight. There must be an illogical element somewhere.
The baseline of that “now-safe” argument maintains that with less drug users, there will be less drug-provoked crimes. This cause-and-effect argument seriously omits one basic query: Has the supply of shabu gone down?
By evading that issue, the support for the war on drugs is actually relativistic, that is, based flimsily on partisanship and fallacy, not on the required criteria for verification. Effectively ignored is the humility to recognize the truth and to accept it as the standard.
This evasiveness gives rise to one essential conundrum: If the intent is to eliminate drugs, why does the drug war spare the rich and the drug lords? Philippine journalism guru Luis V. Teodoro calls the war against “drugs, drugs and drugs . . . a mulish obsession.”
Again we ask: Has the supply of shabu gone down? What is the empirical evidence that it has?
A conversation with urban poor drug users in Duterte country, Davao City, was a revelation. Stories were told about how they would evade tokhang-bound police in their neighborhoods. That was quite astounding, given the confessions of hired assassins that had already been the subject of published news stories and had gone the rounds of social media shares, incriminating police involvement in the drug trade.
The conversation was candid enough—they weren’t aware I was mentally recording data. There were intimations of the denials they made when asked by police. Why would they do that? By now we expect users to fear for their lives. The reason given was as perplexing—because shabu was still in active supply. That is not what one would expect given the mounting death toll.
Compare that to another conversation with local residents in a poor lakeside neighborhood in Rizal province. There, the selling price of shabu had risen post-tokhang. The theory that explains the interaction of supply and demand does not escape us here, and we need not go back to Economics 101: Low supply, coupled with high demand, increases price; in contrast, the greater the supply and the lower the demand, the lower the price tends to fall. In this case, both supply and demand remain unchanged.
That logically leads us to the next question: If the intent is to kill the drug trade—and allusions that the Philippines is now a “narcostate” are discoursed weekly—why can’t the war nip it at source?
This drug war is no systemic war. It is just for show. The only palpable change that this war has brought us after almost six months is our numbness to murder. Graphic images of dead bodies stacked like firewood in a Manila mortuary, as shown in a photo used in an Agence France-Presse dispatch from Australia, elicited no widespread shock.
While some of us digested such reading, out from police custody goes Kerwin Espinosa’s “drugs supplier” Lovely Adam Impal, said to own prime properties in Mindanao. She is free as a rich bird, for “it is up to the local police units that have jurisdiction over her areas of operation if they would file charges against her,” says the chief of the Philippine National Police’s Anti-Illegal Drugs Group.
We see only the trees—poverty is one potent risk factor inviting drug use/trade. A relativistic interpretation has become the decisive element of our national reasoning. We must fear this more than the rise of a new dictator. By living in a false reality anchored on a “false truth,” Teodoro’s “regime of unreason,” we have become a nation with a damaged psyche.
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