Time to change the drug war strategy

President Duterte has publicly admitted his brutal war on drugs has failed. The Philippine National Police also recently said the drug situation has only “worsened.” It makes sense, then, to consider switching to a nonviolent campaign on drug education and prevention, instead of killing drug suspects without due process. Such educational campaign had been conducted with a marked degree of success during the premartial law years, particularly the campaign directed by Greg Macabenta, then vice president of Advertising and Marketing Associates.

On hindsight, the history of drug wars around the world is a history of consistent failure. There is no way a barbaric drug war could stop the proliferation of illicit substances in the Philippines, because illicit drugs are a global business involving many developed and developing countries of the world with total revenue exceeding $500 billion, according to the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC). This amount is larger than the combined international trade of the iron, steel and motor vehicles industries.


One UNODC study estimates that gross profit margins at retail level of drugs are about 240 percent to 300 percent, an amount that barely makes a dent on large-scale seizures of the product on its way to the market. It is believed that about one-third of all the cocaine and “shabu” trafficked have been intercepted, yet the industry has continued to expand. That’s because drug lords have ample incentive to bear the risks and costs of interception, given their enormous profits that can easily cover the costs of the lost cargo.

From a marketing viewpoint, there is justification in calling illicit drugs an industry, because there is great demand for the product and because meeting this demand requires an extensive, complex process of production, manufacture, distribution and investment. Trafficking organizations have a highly centralized management control, with a segmentation of functions.  There are many willing, inexpensive recruits for the menial tasks required by the industry. In addition, the industry needs a wide range of specialized personnel, such as chemists, chemical engineers, pilots, communication specialists, money launderers, accountants, lawyers and security guards.


With regard to drug consumption, remember that since the dawn of history, alcohol, opium, tobacco and marijuana have been used by individuals to escape reality in order to cope with their lives. They are not criminals per se. Instead of punitive punishment, the government should help them flee from their misery and provide them rehabilitation and health care. Drug addiction should be  considered a public health issue that calls for maximum understanding and responsibility. The decision to consume drugs depends on such products’ availability; therefore, we should instead wage war against the smuggling of illicit drugs into the country, and against traffickers, couriers and undercover laboratories.

Aside from massive public information drives on the consequences of drug abuse, we can  create a multisectoral committee to formulate a national drug policy focused on therapy and harm reduction, like they do in Switzerland. Under therapy, individuals suffering from drug addiction are given medical and psychological care. Harm reduction, meanwhile, seeks to minimize the health and social consequences of drug consumption. Educational approaches should not shock or scare children and teens into not using drugs. Instead, we should catch the teens’ attention, then educate them on the potential risks of taking drugs.

In my previous contributed commentary in this paper (“Define the drug problem”), I said we should look at the millions of Filipino children who have yet to taste any illegal substance but who have the potential to become the next generation of drug abusers. Prevention through model parenting would help to immunize children from becoming drug addicts. We should adopt a holistic, nonviolent approach to the drug problem and revisit the previous administration’s “Barkada Kontra Droga” program, which succeeded to manage the reduction of drug demand and supply.

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Carlos A. Agatep is chair and CEO of Grupo Agatep.

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TAGS: Carlos A. Agatep, drug wars, Inquirer Commentary, PNP, Rodrigo Duterte, war on drugs
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