‘Simba, zumba, tumba’

Those three words sum up the government’s drug rehabilitation program for the more than one million people who either surrendered or have been arrested since President Duterte came to power.

Drug surrenderers are ordered by the police to attend simba (religious Mass), required to join zumba (a dance exercise), and if they still fail to end their drug addiction, they become legitimate targets of tumba (slang for extrajudicial killing).


Drug suspects who do not surrender are subjected to an operation, “Katokhang,” where policemen require barangay officials to assist them in visiting the targets’ houses. The cops knock (katok) on the door of the suspects’ houses, and give warning to the suspects to stop their drug activities. The cops lace their warnings with explicit or implicit threats that the suspects can end up as “Tokhang” victims if they do not take heed.

These points were told to me by several barangay officials in Metro Manila who are greatly bothered by the fact that the government has yet to devise a genuine rehabilitation program to help drug surrenderers. The government has frightened or coerced so many suspected “drug personalities” into surrendering, but barangay officials are complaining in whispers about the lack of an honest-to-goodness government program to help surrenderers get rid of their drug habit.


Merely two months after the President assumed office in July 2016, the Philippine National Police reported that more than 686,000 alleged drug personalities “surrendered voluntarily” to police. One year after, the PNP declared that the total number of surrenderers had reached 1.3 million.

The surge of surrenderers happened mostly because of the climate of fear that has enveloped the country as a result of the thousands of police and vigilante killings of suspected drug users and pushers that have been taking place since the current administration assumed office.

President Duterte estimates that 4 million people nationwide are involved in illegal drugs, either as users or pushers, although officials of the Dangerous Drugs Board peg the number at 1.8 million. It’s a huge pool of people who are potential targets of “Simba, Zumba, Tumba” for the four years more of the administration’s term.

In November 2016, the government announced the construction of a 10,000-bed “megafacility” at a military camp in Nueva Ecija, which was trumpeted to serve as the country’s Drug Abuse Treatment and Rehabilitation Center (DATRC). But almost one year after its completion, only 400
patients were in the facility.

Officials of the Department of Health and the Dangerous Drugs Board have admitted that “megafacilities” are not practical. Instead, they favor small community-based facilities because drug dependents need community and family support while they undergo rehabilitation. Drug dependents also need to work because many of them are breadwinners. These needs are not met when the drug rehabilitation facility is in a far-flung location like Nueva Ecija.

Health officials also confided that most of the drug surrenderers are only “mildly affected” by drugs, and not “hardened users.” They don’t need to be admitted to a center for treatment; they need only community rehabilitation.

The barangay officials I spoke with confirmed the need for community rehabilitation, observing that there is always a resurgence in the drug trade when there’s a lull in the killings. This resurgence should prove to the government that the killing of drug suspects will not solve the drug problem. It does not rid drug dependents of their addiction. It proves that the drug problem is largely a health issue, in the same way that addiction to alcohol, tobacco, and gambling are physical and mental health issues.


Instilling fear and exacting death do not comprise a long-term solution to the country’s drug problem. The Duterte administration should listen to its health experts and its people on the ground and finally put up genuine drug rehabilitation programs based in the communities.

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TAGS: drug killings, drug rehabilitation program, EJKs, extrajudicial killings, Flea Market of Idea, Joel Ruiz Butuyan, Rodrigo Duterte, war on drugs
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