FDR’s New Deal and PH’s drug problem

The “war on drugs” introduced by President Duterte has cost the lives of more than 3,600 Filipinos, who died without trial. Of these, nearly a third were killed by police, supposedly in self-defense. They are said to have been drug users, addicts, or pushers. We will never know, but are asked to take the police’s word for it. A corruption-plagued police force that has a history of rubbing out “criminal suspects” with impunity has not earned the people’s trust. Credible evidence indicates that a number were killed by police, in a police station, to silence those who were selling illegal drugs given them by police.

Recently, University of the Philippines Prof. Edna Co made an important intervention in the public debate. She argued that the government must view the drug problem in a holistic way, in the context of the need to improve the lives of the poor. Economic development, and especially inclusive growth, should be linked to the campaign against illegal drugs. To improve the economy, the Philippines will have to rely on a more productive population, and getting millions of people off drugs.


Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo recently spoke up for an alternative approach and an end to the killings. Others have offered suggestions such as education and rehabilitation, treating drug use as a public health issue, effective anticorruption measures, as well as increasing the resources put into counter-supply work by police, customs and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Administration. But the drug problem in the Philippines will not be adequately addressed by focusing on drugs, or focusing on the users, addicts and pushers.

President Duterte has based the war’s justification on what he calls a crisis, the likely result of which would be a “narcostate.” That started me thinking of the crisis in the United States after the stock market crash in 1929 when, in the years following, the country fell into a great economic recession and social crisis. Millions lost their farms and had to migrate to other states or countries. Unemployment hit 25 percent, about 13 million. Hunger, homelessness and despair were widespread as almost a third of families had no full-time wage earner.


In 1933, a new president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) took office after a landslide victory. In his speech accepting the nomination of the Democratic Party, he said: “I pledge you, I pledge myself, to a new deal for the American people.”

To pursue the New Deal, FDR took emergency action within the first 100 days. Under the Emergency Relief Appropriations Act (1933), he issued executive orders creating many relief programs and agencies. These included banking reforms, agricultural reforms, and emergency relief programs for the poor, homeless and hungry. Two years later, in the second stage of the New Deal, came an act to give workers more rights and greater protections for unions, the inclusive and many-faceted Social Security Act, and programs to aid tenant farmers and migrant workers.

One interesting program, highly relevant to the present need for an alternative to killing alleged criminals in the Philippines, was the executive order establishing the Works Progress Administration (WPA). It put 9 million largely unskilled people to work, mainly on infrastructure projects. Surely Professor Co is correct in saying that the President must develop a comprehensive plan linking issues of economic development and productivity to the causes of drug abuse. The way to deal with drugs is not to kill suspects and to encourage vigilantism, but to connect the drug problem to the country’s economic development. This points to a New Deal for all Filipinos who desperately need it. Initiate a WPA and other reforms in the economic sector, and stop the killing.

Some diversity has to be injected into a campaign on drugs, and the notion of a war dropped. Wars fail, as this one will. Wars have collateral damage and severe unintended consequences. Filipinos deserve better than that.

Gill H. Boehringer is a former dean of Macquarie University Law School in Sydney, Australia.

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TAGS: drug war, Economic Development, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Killings, Poverty, reforms, Rodrigo Duterte
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