AFTER former Colombian president Cesar Gaviria contributed to the New York Times an opinion article titled “President Duterte is Repeating My Mistakes,” he earned the distinction of being labeled “idiot” by the President. That Duterte would react harshly to Gaviria’s unsolicited advise is not surprising considering his nature. But his response to the article missed the point and was simplistic.

Instead of tackling the substance of Gaviria’s assertions, the President dwelt on the potency of shabu as compared with Colombia’s illegal drug of choice, cocaine, apparently to show that the drug problem in the Philippines is worse (he failed to mention Colombia’s heroin). But aside from the fact that the President is not a chemist or a doctor, that argument was far from what Gaviria was trying to point out.

Been there, done that. That was essentially what Gaviria was telling Duterte. In fact, Gaviria’s “war” against the illegal drugs trade was harsher, and the response of the narcotics traders more violent, than the one currently waged by Duterte so far. It was under Gaviria’s rule that Pablo Escobar was incarcerated and later killed. Escobar headed the notorious Medellin drug cartel.

But even with his “achievements,” Gaviria was humble enough to admit that his war on drugs failed to solve the problem. “Not only did we fail to eradicate drug production, trafficking and consumption in Colombia, but we also pushed drugs and crime into neighboring countries,” he wrote.

And the cost? Gaviria continued: “Tens of thousands of people were slaughtered in our anti-drug crusade. Many of our brightest politicians, judges, police officers and journalists were assassinated.”

Which brings us to the core of Gaviria’s message: “We could not win the war on drugs through killing petty criminals and addicts,” he wrote. “We started making positive impacts only when we changed tack, designating drugs as a social problem and not a military one.”

If only the President was not immediately dismissive of Gaviria’s views, took time to digest the content of the article and reached out to him and compare notes with him on the “war” they waged or are waging.