by Phylicia Abary
An overview on the ‘War on Drugs’
During Duterte’s presidential campaign in 2016, he claimed that one of the most rampant issues in the Philippines was the usage of illegal drugs. Duterte pledged that if he were to be elected into office, criminal activity concerning drugs would be a focal point of action for his administration.
Ever since Duterte’s election, and subsequent inauguration in June 2016, he and his administration have placed the Philippines under the ‘War on Drugs’. This endeavor was executed by the Philippine National Police (PNP) and killed approximately 8,663 individuals between 2016-2020. The War on Drugs campaign has not been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic as 186 deaths have been confirmed in the first quarter of 2021 alone.
Despite these devastating statistics, there is no concrete proof of a significant decrease in criminal activity related to illegal drugs. While the overall crime rate has decreased by 11% in the Philippines during the Duterte Administration, there is no solid evidence of the effectiveness of the violent affairs in tackling the issue. Colonel Romeo Calamat, head of drug enforcement in the PNP, has said that despite the War on Drugs, the issue of illegal substances in the country is still rampant.
Moreover, the human rights violations undertaken and dismissed as collateral by the government leaves the Philippines a much more dangerous country than it previously was. Extrajudicial killings occur left and right, suspects are detained without fair trial, and prison conditions in the country have worsened. This is not due to drug-related issues but rather the president himself encouraging and enabling those under him to violate the lives of his countrymen.
It would be in the country’s best interests that the president study and look towards more progressive avenues of decreasing illegal substance use. A notable and effective precedent is seen in Portugal, which had decriminalized the use of drugs in 2001.
Since Portugal’s decriminalization of drugs, drug-related uses and deaths have been staying under the EU average, with drug-related prison sentences decreasing from 40% to 15%.
Portugal had not fully legalized drugs, however they did place focus on the rehabilitation and betterment of those involved in such activities. This allowed these individuals to not merely be punished but rather be aided in overcoming their need to use or be involved in the drug-related proceedings. A rehabilitation program must be offered in lieu of killing those who have been suspected of drug use, as this is much more effective in decreasing illegal substance activity.
Overall, the most effective means to avoid and lower rates of drug use is to engage in awareness campaigns aimed towards the community. Strategies such as mass media campaigns, counselling, and community organizations are all constructive means that allow the citizens themselves to learn about the harmful consequences of using drugs and actively engage with those involved in the community at the same time.
Moreover, the President must aim to educate Filipinos on the implications of drug abuse, especially for adolescents. This has been proven to be the most effective means of decreasing drug use, as adolescents are the most susceptible to drug-use. At this stage in life, drug-use can result in serious harm on adolescents’ brain development, making it even more critical to address this situation at a young age.
These programs can be done in school as well as in the community, as they allow space for learning and collaboration amongst individuals they are well acquainted with. The church is also another viable means of educating the masses, as the country is one of the most religious in the world. A study conducted by Gallup International resulted in the Philippines ranked as the fifth most religious country in the world. The same study showed that the lower the education level, the more religious they are. It would be logical for the government to collaborate with the church in order to effectively reach and educate these people concerning drug use.
In conclusion: the War on Drugs is Devastatingly Unnecessary
The attempt to quell these types of crimes by death threats (and even direct killings) is counterintuitive. In the entirety of the campaign, its effectiveness towards the crimes that it is supposed to be directly addressing is non-existent. In the entirety of the campaign, the number of Filipinos who have been killed and the number of families who have mourned is appalling.
It is imperative that the Philippine government make several changes to their illegal drug campaign and place high focus on education rather than using brute police force to solve such an issue.
Perhaps the Philippine government must begin to think before opening their mouths in order to see that the rest of the country is bleeding.