Searching for common ground in 2017
National interest requires an honest effort in 2017 to find common ground between critics and supporters of President Duterte. On the drug policy, surely they can all agree that: 1) we have a drug problem requiring action; 2) law enforcement is part of the solution; and 3) enforcing laws may lead to casualties.
Shouldn’t they also agree that: 1) an informed strategy must guide policy; 2) drug addiction afflicts many countries; and 3) we can benefit from the global experience with addressing drug addiction? Unfortunately, Mr. Duterte has shown little inclination to accept the global lessons learned at great cost over centuries, preferring to go by his 30-year experience in Davao City.
While repeatedly rejecting US influence, Mr. Duterte has come up with a strategy that follows the war on drugs that America waged at home and exported abroad in the 1970s and ’80s. This policy, anchored on police action and punitive sanctions, arguably helped push the death penalty for drug offenses from 10 countries in 1979 to 36 by 2000.
This approach has now fallen into disfavor. By 1977, 16 countries had abolished the death penalty and 140 have done so today. And 33 countries rarely impose the death penalty they prescribe for drug offenses. Since 2010, only seven countries have conducted executions for drug offenses, according to a report of the International Drug Policy Consortium.
China, Iran and Saudi Arabia, described by Harm Reduction International as aggressive executioners at the “extreme fringe of the international community,” raised the number of drug executions in 2014 to about 600. With the fatalities in Mr. Duterte’s war on drugs at over 10 times that number, the Philippines now stands at the extreme end of the fringe.
A moral basis drives the trend against the death penalty, despite the “eye for an eye” policy practiced for centuries. As humanity progressed toward higher stages of political and economic development, the understanding of what it means to be human and what constitutes humane behavior also evolved. We no longer throw widows into the fires that cremate their husbands. No country now permits the profitable business of slavery.
Other governments have waged a war on drugs even more vigorously than Mr. Duterte. They abandoned the mailed-fist strategy even when it still enjoyed popular support. They did not miraculously become “pusong mamon” suddenly overwhelmed by guilt over human rights violations. They changed course because the war approach did not pay off. The costs, which included damage to their international standing, loss of economic benefits and the escalation of domestic violence, exceeded the gains.
Consider Mexico, where drug trafficking had flourished since the 1960s. Elected in 2006, President Felipe Calderón made its suppression his top priority and unleashed the military against the drug cartels—an approach Mr. Duterte wants to follow. By the time Calderón left office in 2012, more than 60,000 Mexicans were dead and another 25,000 missing. Meanwhile, official sources reported that heroin addiction increased by nearly 83 percent between 2007 and 2013.
Calderón’s successor Enrique Peña Nieto scaled back the war, and the killings declined from over 21,500 in 2012 to 17,000 in 2014. But the first 10 months of 2016 registered over 17,000 deaths, the highest since 2012. Accompanying the surge in violence, drug trafficking continued to prosper. Rather than resolving the underlying causes of addiction, the state-sponsored war promoted criminal violence and contributed to eroding the rule of law.
Colombia has also experienced decades of narcopolitics and drug war violence.
Addressing the United Nations General Assembly’s Special Session on the World Drug Problem last April, President Juan Manuel Santos shared Colombia’s painfully learned insight: “If something is not working for more than 40 years, logic and common sense tell you that it must be changed.”
Cast aside moral convictions: Logic and common sense should teach us to avoid failed policies. Must we wait for six years and Mr. Duterte’s three million casualties?
Edilberto C. de Jesus ([email protected] gmail.com) is professor emeritus at the Asian Institute of Management. Prof. Rofel Brion’s Tagalog translation of this column and others earlier published, together with other commentaries, are in http://secondthoughts.ph.
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