Sunday, November 28, 2021

Editorial: Community drug rehab


SOME of our cities in Cebu are graduating by the hundreds drug dependents under their community-based drug rehabilitation program (CBDRP). By graduates, we mean individuals who have weaned themselves off illegal drugs for at least six months, while being placed under sporadic surprise drug tests within the required period.

These individuals were either in the drug watch list or walk-ins. Those under the barangay’s drug watch list became a subject of “tokhang,” now called “house visit” after the former was tainted with notoriety. A team composed of representatives from the city police, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), the city’s and the barangay’s anti-drug bodies, and some members of the media knock on the door of a listed individual and invite him or her to join a community-based therapy (CBT) a few hours each week for six months. There is also a separate program for persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) who are, under parole and probation law, required to undergo rehabilitation.

One of the more successful CBT models is that of Talisay City’s City Health Office, which program had evolved with proven efficiency under the leadership of Dr. Rey Cesar M. Bautista. While the Talisay model is being benchmarked by a number of local government units, it has also inspired academic evaluations and studies.

Cebu City’s CBT program, on the other hand, has been doing significant strides in the last few months with the leadership of Jonah John Jumao-as Rodriguez, chief of the Cebu City Office for Substance Abuse Prevention (Cosap). The removal of these individuals’ names in the watch list is pertinent step to achieving a “drug-cleared” status for the barangays. A good number of barangays in a number of Cebu cities have been placed under this status.

We take this up as President Rodrigo Duterte, who obsessed in the drug war in a saga of repetitive rhetorics for the most years of his administration, must be called to account for his agenda’s hits and misses. He already missed the “three to six months” mark he swore as a rabid campaigner, and he admitted where the weak links were. “I said I can solve the problem in six months. Little did I know that I will be fighting my own government. So they (critics) were right. But I didn’t know,” he had said. So he failed, he had over five years to correct it.

The Philippine National Police had reported about 6,117 dead in anti-illegal drug operations, while human rights groups place the death toll between 20,000 and 30,000, including extrajudicial killings. Regardless of the difference, and considering that the crackdowns took place ahead of the PNP’s internal cleansing, it can be said that it hit an expensive hornet’s nest of complications, a messy, unforgivable bloodshed, the collateral damage of which in not a few cases goes to basic human rights and due process. The pile of dead went up it scared the shit out of lawyers’ groups, some of which erstwhile passive endorsers of the drug war itself.

Many of the documented cases have been raised to the International Criminal Court (ICC) while the Supreme Court of late reaffirmed the Philippine Government’s obligation to answer these complaints despite its withdrawal from the statute.

Meanwhile, the PNP had reported that only around 52 percent of the barangays in the country (42,045) have been declared drug cleared from July 2016 to April 2021. Around P60 billion in drugs and equipments have been seized, no small feat though. Some 12,000 high value targets have been arrested, over 300 of which were government officials.

The Dangerous Drugs Board supposedly pushed for the creation of the Balay Silangan to be undertaken by the local government units, but lead agency PDEA finds that the success of the program relies heavily on the commitment of the LGUs, some of which are lukewarm at the mention of required funding.

On the other hand, our justice department reports a 50 percent prosecution rate for illegal drug cases, the challenge, it observes, lies in the institutional capacities and the volume of cases, custody of evidence, enforcement procedural lapses, among others.

Vice President Leni Robredo, who had a brief stint as chief of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs, suggested to the body that the illegal drug problem shouldn’t be looked at using the lens of criminality, but a “medical and sociological problem.”

That call may have been answered already by the active CBT programs in the barangays, the better models only need to be benchmarked by those who have yet to roll out their versions.

The last few years in the drug war have been painful and lessons were learned. A deeper policy discussion must be on the table leading to the 2022 polls.


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