An uprooting

In order to address the bloody drug war, the administration succeeding Duterte’s must take into consideration factors that go beyond just illegal drugs.

Last March, I worked on an article that emphasized how the Duterte administration’s tokhang modus is a misplaced and hostile response to the problem of illegal drugs and preventing their use and distribution in the country. Working under a façade, tokhang is nothing short of a medium to unjustly enact violence and unnecessarily spread fear. On top of all of that, it is anti-poor. 

What could have been a viable and science-based solution was rehabilitation. Nationwide, there are various treatment and rehabilitation centers (TRCs); the sole 14 under the Department of Health (DOH) continue to be underfunded, while private ones are stigmatized and inaccessible to the masses. Like any other service, rehabilitation is not entirely free. But if enough budget was to be allocated for these TRCs, we could only imagine their productivity. 

Presidential aspirant Vice President Leni Robredo earlier stated that she plans to continue the drug war although with “more effort on rehabilitation and prevention,” and with the Dangerous Drugs Board at the helm. This became a symbol of hope—that maybe we could revert what Duterte had miserably failed to do. 

But such is a dream that may be too unrealistic at this point. It is hard to undo Duterte’s legacy after going through almost six years of his drug war. There might have already been an ingrained viewpoint among Filipinos that to eradicate illegal drugs in the country, the dehumanization of systems and policies is required. 

While this intends to focus on a more “comprehensive” approach, the government—with Robredo, should she win—has to look beyond just illegal drugs to actually eradicate the problem. We all have to realize that issues are not isolated from each other but rather interconnected. The world is run by systems after all. 

For the longest time, we have viewed substance dependents as inhumans. We fail to realize that they are just like us: people who make wrong choices at some point in their lives. While we can never justify illegal acts, we have to understand the context behind their decisions. They might have been introduced to illegal and addicting substances by people they thought they could trust, through misinformation, because of desperation to make ends meet instantly—in a way, they became victims of circumstance. 

When we try to discuss these problems, we always blame the people for their inaction and inability to get out of their situations, for their less informed choices, or for their choice of doing anything but the morally upright and legal. But by seeing things this way, we dump all the burden on the individuals but absolve from blame the system that causes these individuals to err. 

While deception by people we could trust is something beyond our control, if there had been an emphasis to cultivate less corrupt societies and communities, people would not have to take advantage of each other. If there had been effective communication platforms, policies, and initiatives from DOH itself, people would have been more aware of the effects of taking illegal drugs and substances. If the Philippine economy was thriving and Filipinos are actively being assisted by the government to get us out of poverty, stable jobs and pay would have been options to make ends meet instead. 

We can hold substance dependents accountable for doing illegal acts but we cannot blame them for their circumstance. In such a corrupt and anti-poor environment, it is the government’s systems that should be looked into. 

Furthermore, if we are to invest in rehabilitation, we have to remember that it is a process to recovery—a process which will not always be linear. The possibility of experiencing relapses is there but we should note that this is in no way a sign of failure. We should relearn the value of what it means to be human and unlearn the monstrous acts we have been accustomed to. If we are willing to give second chances, it should be for these victims and not those who try their best to bury the sins of their families in their campaigns.

When was it ever more convenient and appropriate to forgive murderers, plunderers, rapists—human rights violators—but not the neglected and the misfortuned?

Advocating for science-based approaches in response to the drug war can be one of the many first steps for the Philippines. But science-based approaches are not in their own league; a lot of other factors come into play and we have to realize that as soon as now. Behind the illegal drug predicament are systemic problems. We cannot continue trimming off the weeds and expect them to disappear without uprooting them. Like what we aim for, we need a comprehensive and encompassing analysis of the drug war. 

While urgency is appreciated, like lugaw, well thought-out strategies and humane policies are just as essential.

Ramon Castañeda

By Ramon Castañeda

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