The Philippines and Its War Against Drugs

Is the Philippines winning in its war against drugs? Sounds like a rhetorical question because none of us can give a straight answer.
Stop drugs. An anti-drug campaign in Moscow.
Image credit: Pixabay

As the 16th President of the Philippines, he vowed to eradicate drugs and crime in 6 months. While the Philippines is plagued by other severe problems, the government has focused most of its efforts on its anti-drug campaign. But is the current Philippine administration really winning the war on drugs? 

It's been little over a year, way past the deadline of 6 months, and it seems even after a string of buy-bust operations, raids, and the number of dead/casualties increasing (as the administration defends its use of extreme measures), there still seems to be more.

Last May, Philippine government agents seized $125.4 M worth of "shabu" (meth) that was smuggled into the country from China. The contraband was taken from a warehouse in the National Capital Region 3 days after it left the Manila International Container Port. The container, claiming to contain kitchenware, was able to get past Customs inspection and was released immediately after taxes were paid without any delay. It was from a "tip' from a Chinese businessman that the true contents of the container were discovered. A Senate inquiry was conducted to investigate the smuggling but no suspect was apprehended or taken into custody. I personally believe that when the son of the President of the Philippines was implicated in the mess, the inquiry died a natural death. The only person who did get the short end of the stick was the Bureau of Customs Commissioner who resigned after allegations of corruption(nothing new there, the BOC is branded as one of the most corrupt government agencies) was brought to his attention. The President, known for his colorful and belligerent speeches regarding the urgency to quash the drug problem in the country was unexpectedly quiet during the Senate investigation. Many wondered because we all know that he has professed his hate for illegal drugs.
Publicizing dangers of crack cocaine.
by The  U.S. Food and Drug Administration
under Public Domain

The drug of choice of over 90% of Filipino drug users is "shabu" which is the Philippine street name for the drug methamphetamine (meth) known abroad as speed or crank. It is said to be affordable- some even say it's cheaper than a bottle of beer- thus, it's appeal to the poor giving it its title "poor man's cocaine". Although the Philippine drug policy is strict and enforces lifetime imprisonment for those caught using, dealing, distributing, and manufacturing/producing illegal drugs, it seems as if these people aren't at all scared of being caught as shown by the hefty container of shabu smuggled into the country. As the government pursues those listed on a watchlist (mainly poor who obviously can't afford a lawyer), the big drug syndicates/cartels go on as if having diplomatic immunity. As for those labeled narco-politicians, only 2 prominent families have gone down; actually gunned down by the police. If that long list of narco-politicians holds true, the government has their work cut out for them.

The President, in utmost confidence, has tasked the Philippine National Police(PNP) to wage this war even though many in the PNP are dirty cops. Some are protectors of narco-politicians/alleged drug lords, being paid very well I may add, to keep their " business" under wraps. In a recent Senate inquiry, a police officer claimed that his monthly salary was 8000Php ($160) but as stated in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth, he is a multi-millionaire. He reasoned that his wife had various successful businesses that attributed to his current financial state. Highly questionable but probable. I only wish that authorities would investigate further.

As the government also tries to crack down corruption in all agencies/departments, it has made some police officers very crafty on how to extort by use of the anti-drug campaign(since they can no longer extort from their usual activities). The Chief of Police launched "Oplan Tokhang" (Operation Knock and Politely Request) at the start of the current administration. He explicitly provided guidelines, explaining that police officers were to go door to door, and politely request an audience. If the house homed a person of interest, he would be INVITED to the police station to prove his innocence (by signing a waiver of some sort). Unfortunately, some dirty cops use this operation to enter the household, plant evidence, extort from the owner of the house or either steal cash/valuables(done by certain Caloocan City police seen on CCTV). If these are the cops that are tasked to take down drugs, it is highly unlikely that they are going to do it at all.

Another issue of the PNP is their itchy trigger finger albeit they say that most of the killings are from vigilantes or from the drug syndicates themselves as their (drug syndicates) way of cleaning house. Recently, the PNP was in the spotlight after a 17yr old boy was gunned down by police officers conducting a raid that left 32 dead. According to the police, the boy was a suspected drug runner and was gunned down because the boy allegedly fought back claiming self-defense. When asked by the Senate regarding the source of their intel, the police claimed they got it off Facebook. As you see, the trend in the Philippines now is "try and link the person to drugs and this makes killing him acceptable."

The Philippines has been gaining worldwide popularity because of the anti-drug campaign and the casualties left in its wake. Recently, the PNP has reported that there has been only 1 extra-judicial killing as defined by Administrative Order 35( EJK victims as members or advocates of political, environmental, agrarian, labor, or similar causes, media practitioners and persons are mistaken to be so) under the current administration. A great just rings volumes. This PNP report was given to pacify the Filipino citizens as results from a survey shows that 7 in 10 Filipinos fear they could be victims of extra-judicial killings. Personally, the PNP report is not comforting at all.

Because of the many setbacks brought by the PNP in this anti-drug campaign and the implication of a presidential son in drug smuggling, many Filipinos have begun to speculate on the genuine intention of this war. No doubt, most of us want the country to be drug-free, the only ones against it are those who are profiting from the sales. But when an operation becomes a smokescreen to extort, steal or kill or when the son of the highest leader of the land can just brush off serious allegations of drug smuggling while a 17yr old is shot dead because of a post on a social media site linking him to drugs...then, there IS something wrong. We have to admit it and take some accountability.
Image credit: Pixabay

Re-evaluation is necessary for this anti-drug campaign to succeed. According to an article "Almost Under the Influence: What Makes an Anti-Drug Campaign Succeed?" on that anti-drug campaigns that have actually been successful at decreasing drug use used entirely different strategies than the vast majority of government counter-drug efforts that use FEAR as their main tactic(in this country, threat and use of extreme measures is also used as a tactic). The most successful anti-drug campaign in the U.S. known as "Above the Influence" which used the tactic of avoiding the subject entirely or almost zero mention of drugs at all. Upon the advice of researchers, the campaign aimed to find out what kids who don't do drugs do, and advertise those activities instead. Since studies show that talking about drugs piqued a kid's interest, by avoiding the notion of narcotics, they bypass the problem altogether. Another interesting campaign "Meth: Not Even Once" which was also successful, used a derivative of fear to achieve results: disgust. It gave the message not that meth could be dangerous, but it would endanger morals and looks. With this ad, 72% relative decrease in adult meth use and a 62% relative decline in meth-related crimes were achieved.

Aside from this, police officers should be given further training and the necessary supplemental education. Rogue cops should be dismissed from duty and prosecuted. The law should be enforced properly and everyone should feel the full extent of the law. Consequently, what is done to the rich and powerful should be subsequently done to the poor. Equality in all sectors. The slogan "jail the pusher, rehabilitate the user", which I've heard countless times, should ring true.

On a website, it poses a serious question and challenge directed towards the advocacy of the anti-drug campaign in the Philippines while providing a valid perspective. It is quoted on the website: "Today, "shabu" poses a problem, as serious, as frightening, as formidable, as any present-day issue confronting the Filipino society. How can a country and a system mired in corruption fare against the commerce of drug trade so empowered by its bottomless coffers and consequent political clout? Many powerful nations have succumbed; the fanfares of their drug wars drug muffed, their policies inevitably compromised, shifting from prevention into containment. The problem is past prevention. Is containment still possible?" Ideally, if the government can enforce better wages for the masses, better daily living conditions, better employment opportunities, better tech service (the internet service is really awful), better health services, bring down inflation, and overall better government service without corruption...I'd think containment is possible. Because people wouldn't have to run to drugs to escape from the harsh and dark reality that we call life.

Remember, When it comes to drugs, be SMART, don't START!

**credit to "Almost Under the Influence: What Makes an Anti-drug Campaign Succeed?" ; "Shabu"; For more info please feel free to visit their websites.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. It's from a perspective of a regular citizen. Not from those who have agenda like Rappler, Thinking Pinoy, and Pinoy ako Blog.

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