MORE than most people, former Cebu City mayor Michael Rama and retired police generals Vicente Loot and Marcelo Garbo are probably watching the developments in government’s case against Cebu-based businessman Peter Lim and detainee Rolando “Kerwin” Espinosa Jr.
Yes, that case still exists. It awaits review by the justice secretary, but it rests on shaky ground, after a Department of Justice (DOJ) panel found insufficient proof to ask for a trial. The panel had about 17 months after President Rodrigo Duterte named Lim as a drug lord, but in all that time they couldn’t find a credible enough witness or find proof to bring the case to court.
Like Lim, the names of Garbo and Loot were brought up in the first month of President Duterte’s term. Rama was dragged into the controversy a few weeks later, along with more than 150 incumbent or former mayors, police officers, and judges whom President Duterte revealed in what was shaping up to be the name-and-shame strategy of the campaign against illegal drugs.
That strategy has its uses. Human rights groups have repeatedly wielded it to call out abusive governments and human traffickers, for example. In the campaign against illegal drugs, naming-and-shaming may limit the activities of those involved, the way headlights can stop an animal in its tracks. But the strategy carries with it a serious risk.
Naming-and-shaming, when it fails, weakens people’s trust in the quality of intelligence-gathering and investigative work that the campaign rests on. If the authorities got this one wrong, or so the speculation goes, what else did they bungle? By painting some personalities as guilty even before the evidence could be marshalled, authorities who name-and-shame end up eroding the public’s already limited faith in the rule of law. They also reinforce the view, although that may not be their intention at all, that only the small fry do pay the price, while the big fish roam free.
This week, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs opened its session in Vienna with United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres calling for efforts “to stop organized crime while protecting human rights, enabling development, and ensuring rights-based treatment and support.” Participants will examine ways to fight the synthetic opioid crisis and strengthen drug prevention in schools, among others.
It is high time we had a national conversation along similar lines; that we commit to use better strategies, other than naming-and-shaming, and as a community use approaches that give rights, information, and evidence the weight these deserve in the fight against illegal drugs.