The breakdown of communities

12:18 AM March 24, 2017

The controversy centers on how the war on drugs is fought. And there is only one way – the Duterte way. Because there is only one way, there is no other focus but on that way, what is good about it and what is bad about it.

In the first place, is there universal acceptance of the problem and its magnitude? If not, the Duterte way of confronting what to him is a real life-threatening situation will be supported by those who see the context from which the President moves and will be damned by those who do not accept the basic assumption of an emerging or actual narco-state.


In the drive to cleanse the nation of drug dependents and drug pushers, more than 1.4 million of them have surrendered, admitted their dependency and, many of them, that they have pushed drugs, too.  Government officials estimate millions more that have not surrendered but are addicted as well, and many of them street-level pushers. When we put all these figures together, the option that has often been talked about regarding legalizing, even subsidizing, the use of drugs as what some European countries have done simply becomes inapplicable. I do not know of any intelligent plan on how to legalize and make available, in controlled situations, the most used illegal drug of all – shabu – yet maintain security in society.

So, if government cannot legalize, subsidize and make shabu available to the millions of crave for it, what then can it do to contain and then eliminate the demand that guarantees the supply? A former president of a South American nation said that killing is the wrong way to solve the problem of illegal drugs. Of course, he can say it because approximately 400,000 have been reported killed in his country in the last four decades because of their war against drugs. But the option is not any clearer, not even for him, because the drug problem persists, albeit at a lower level – after four decades.

Yes, there must be other options. But those involved in the drug trade cannot be told what to do, especially in stopping the violent nature of their business which has killings as a normal occurrence. I remember reading from an Amnesty International article posted in Facebook that their interviews of Filipinos involved in the drug trade revealed how killings have increased. What many have glossed over about that report is that the killings have been happening for more than a decade before the Duterte presidency, the same kind of killings. Except those killings never made it to mainstream or social media.


The presidency of Rodrigo R. Duterte started off with a very bright spot – his extremely high popularity among Filipinos despite his loudly articulated views and actions against illegal drugs. Since then, his 9-month old presidency has encountered the usual problems and his popularity, while dominant, is taking many hits. Strangely, or sadly for those rabidly against his war on drugs, it is on the same issue where he persists in scoring very well. His posture against the Americans hurt him. His posture in favor of China hurts him. His starting popularity insulates him still, but that buffer zone will wear thin because most Filipinos not only like America but have relatives living there (and sending them money), and most Filipinos resent what they feel is China’s bullying in taking over islands we believe belong to the Philippines. Duterte’s popularity alone cannot turn the tide against America nor can it alone turn the tide in favor of China. Only America and China have the basic capacity to do that for themselves.

The President has good reasons for waging war against drugs, has good reason for wanting more independence from America, has good reason for avoiding conflict with China. He has even better reasons for seeking peace with the Communist and the Muslim rebels. But because he tackles very emotional and divisive issues, he needs a high level of unity and support from the Filipino people. He has many and ardent supporters and they are a powerful core. But this core also subtracts from their positive impact by creating enemies through aggressive actions and reactions against those who differ from them. This hurts the President as well because he needs to consolidate support, not divide it.

Meanwhile, the very reason why his war on drugs was chosen by him as the center of his governance is the horror of drug addiction and the corruption of a nation by those who run the drug trade. His fear of the Philippines being a narco state cannot be understated if we are to consider the human cost, in lives and the well-being, of residents of Columbia and Mexico. Good intentions, however, are not enough to curb and dismantle a virulent cancer that has grown over the decades, and especially since the Philippines has begun to manufacture shabu. Killings try to address one dimension of the drug crisis but cannot motivate what may be the most important of all – the concerted and integrated effort of our government and our communities.

It is the communities who are most affected by the drug situation. It is their sons and daughters who become addicts, who become pushers. It is their officials who are bought and corrupted. It is their justice system that is perverted and rendered inutile. Yet, communities have not been recruited as the primary partners of government in a war against drugs. The one most affected are excluded from the solution.

Communities have a natural strength – the fact that they are communities bound by common aspirations, common concerns and common strengths. When communities lose their togetherness and become wracked by apathy and partisanship, they become most vulnerable to drugs and corruption. The massiveness of drug dependency shows how the natural defenses of most communities have been breached. And if communities are not motivated and supported by an intentional program of government to find their unity and protective wall again, even killings by the hundreds of thousands will never win the war.

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TAGS: Duterte way, war on drugs
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