IN HIS campaign before assuming the position of the country’s chief executive, President Rodrigo Duterte promised safest streets for citizens to freely roam around. He implied that he would be bringing the “peace and quiet” of Davao City to the whole country. It was a fairly believable promise that led 16 million Filipinos to elect him to the highest position in the land. However, only a few months later, the alleys he promised to be crime-free were already stained with blood as thousands were killed because of his “war on drugs.”
Many human rights advocates have characterized Duterte’s war on drugs as a war against the poor. It seemed to be targeting alleged drug pushers and drug users who belong to the lowest socio-economic stratification. Worse, most of them were not subjected to the due process of law as police officers seem to take the law into their own hands by executing all those whose names appear in the so-called “drug watchlist.”
Nonetheless, a severe drug problem is not exclusively experienced by the Philippines. In fact, many Asian countries seem to be having the same dilemma. According to the United States National Library of Medicine, many Southeast Asian countries have increasing records of heroin abuse as well as addiction to other types of dangerous drugs. Opium has traditionally been used for treating illnesses and alleviating physical and mental stress, as well as for recreational and social purposes. The prohibition on the sale and use of opium in Myanmar, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand forced many habitual opium users to switch to heroin. Over the past two decades, there has been an increasing trend towards drug use, often involving experimentation with more than one substance, among youth in and out of school.
Drug addiction spread first to the populations of capital cities and then to other cities and towns and even to the hill tribes, studies in Thailand have revealed. Most recent studies have shown that heroin abuse has spread further in Asia, both socially and geographically, involving such countries as India and Sri Lanka, which had no previous experience with the problem. Studies have also shown that the abuse of manufactured psychotropic substances has been increasing and that heroin addicts resort to these substances when heroin is difficult to find, the US National Institute of Health elaborates.
To counter drug addiction and its threat to significant social institutions, Thailand was able to devise a rehabilitative kind of campaign. In a study published at the University of East London, the Thai government’s remedies were shown to include medical services which focus on treating drug addicts instead of imposing inhumane penalties on them. Although not completely successful, Thailand’s bloodless campaign paved the way for policy recommendations such as developing cost-effective and politically viable alternatives to existing compulsory treatment programs, expansion of international and domestic training for competent drug treatment and prevention providers, and implementation of stringent regulation on industries using precursor chemicals.
Moreover, in Malaysia, the government established voluntary drug treatment venues known as “Cure and Care” centers, that embrace a holistic treatment-based approach to drug addiction rehabilitation. These institutions are said to be a “dramatic shift in the Malaysian government’s approach to drug addiction.” As a result, there have been positive patient experiences associated with the holistic treatment-based approach employed by this method.
Hence, the Philippines should take the lead of the aforementioned countries in trying to combat drug addiction. Extrajudicial killings are certainly counterproductive as proven by the recent report of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs. Furthermore, Article III, Section 1 of the 1987 Constitution states that, “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, and property without due process of law, nor shall any person be denied the equal protection of the laws.”
Every man who is being charged for a crime should be afforded his day in court and should be tried by a competent authority who is mandated to determine his guilt beyond reasonable doubt before convicting him. The purpose of having rules of procedure, hence, is to guarantee that these constitutional safeguards are not infringed by grave abuse of discretion of persons in authority.
Bernadette A. Pamintuan,
San Sebastian College-Recoletos College of Law