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‘From Tokhang to Labang’

Fr. Carmelo O. Diola
Spaces of Hope

 

Fr. Carmelo O. DiolaMayor Rodrigo Duterte won the presidency because of his anti-drug agenda. 16 million deeply frustrated Filipinos chose him to end the woes and sufferings brought about by the monster drug menace. When imprisoned drug lords continue to operate with impunity inside supposedly maximum security jails, an extraordinary situation exists calling for extraordinary means to suppress it.

Even before the specter of vigilante killings appeared, illegal drugs already represented the culture of death in our country. It is “the mother of all crimes” responsible for 60% of all index crimes and 95% of all heinous crimes. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC) reports there are 27 million drug addicts in the world of which three million are in the Philippines or around 11% of the total! A stable yet still unacceptably high number of drug users worldwide continue to lose their lives prematurely with an estimated 187,100 drug-related deaths in 2013, about 4,000 of these in the Philippines.

Our society has just grown so used to the prevalence of drugs that we no longer pay attention to the countless rapes, murders, and thievery brought by illegal drugs, not to mention the absence of peace in families, neighborhoods, and barangays because of drug addicts. Societies are teetering towards perdition as families slowly disintegrate in the face of the drug menace. Addicts die a slow brain death, akin to being zombies. Meanwhile, the Chinese Triad in partnership with Mexican drug cartels rake in an estimated Php 450 billion a year.

My advocacy group, Dilaab Foundation Inc., and I are no strangers to the evils of illegal drugs. From 2001-2006, we actively campaigned against illegal drugs and narco-politics. We have seen the extent of their influence in the country’s bureaucracy, how they corrupt (or eliminate) anyone they touch and how close we are to becoming a narco-state. Our five years of experience showed us that the proliferation of illegal drugs is fruit of the failure of our justice system as well as the many disconnects and dislocations found in society. The head of a network of drug rehab centers, for instance, informs me that 70% of all their clients are children of OFWs. In a larger sense, illegal drugs have become a dominant reality due to the failure of all sectors to come together. As one writer puts it, the opposite of addiction is connection.

Back then it was a very lonely fight. Now the picture has completely changed. Those into illegal drugs are on the defensive. Our country today stands at a particularly crucial crossroads in its history. There are opportunities that may never come our way again. To-date more than 600,000 self-confessed illegal drug users have surrendered out of fear, the desire to clear their names, the rumor of jobs, and the bandwagon mentality. The situation is unprecedented, akin to the aftermath of super-typhoon Yolanda, leaving all sectors overwhelmed. At the same time, there are almost 1,000 deaths resulting from police operations and from still-unidentified vigilantes.

There are celebrations and cries of victory as well as tears, silent and loud sobs, and voices grieving and protesting. Drug addicts and pushers fear for their lives. Drug lords and their government protectors do not feel secure. It is about time and rightly so.

Yet there is also a growing fear even among those who seek the end of illegal drugs and who want President Duterte to succeed. They are also law-abiding and well-meaning citizens. They include parents, siblings, and friends of drug addicts and co-dependents who have raised their hands in despair. Still other people fear for themselves and for their loved ones who might just become innocent victims caught in the crossfire and for whatever other motivations generated by warped minds. We cannot close our eyes to these contrasting pictures in our social landscape. Our history is littered with examples of how absolute power corrupts and how it corrupts absolutely. We have to ask deeper questions.

There is certainly just and grave cause to wage this campaign. Government has the responsibility, the authority, and the means to protect its citizens from the ravages of drugs. The failure of past administrations to address this problem has made it spin out of control. Past efforts have been feeble or mainly for show. But there is also the question of proportionality. Are the means used to combat illegal drugs proportionate to the evils of drugs? Would the future society envisioned in the campaign be better than our present society? It would be ironic if some solutions we use and applaud today would cause bigger problems tomorrow. The lust for blood cannot be the basis of any just society. We must resist shortcuts.

Mexico’s war on drugs has already resulted in more than 160,000 deaths. Despite their efforts, the drug trade is still rampant against a cartel system deeply embedded in their system and cruelty has heightened. Drugs continue to proliferate in the US despite all its technology and resources. These two countries cannot be our inspiration for a drug-free Philippines. It is therefore important that the strategy we employ provides a sustainable solution towards the eradication of illegal drugs.

Yet neither can we just criticize. Our approach must involve the best in us and include the best elements of our already-wounded culture. The elements to a lasting solution call for the following:

First, various sectors need to quickly come together for barangay-based therapy and reintegration work. There are only 45 rehab centers all over the country that can accommodate only 5,000 drug addicts. An estimated 3 million Filipinos use drugs and, if the experience of the town of Sogod, Cebu is any indication—wherein only 11 of the 240 surrenderees do not need rehab—then from 2 to 2.9 million drug users in the country need rehab! There are already efforts on the ground in various places in the country. These must be supported and replicated.

Second, there is need for a massive educational effort to do two things: to educate the public about the evils of drugs in the spirit of prevention being better than cure; and to gradually remove the social stigma towards drug addicts not because what they do is good or should be socially tolerated but because drug addiction is primarily a public health issue. If connection is the opposite of addiction, then the changing of mindsets is crucial.

Third, government must transition from treating illegal drugs from a mainly law-enforcement perspective to a public-health issue. This requires building more rehab centers and adequately training and building the capability of its health workers to deal with drug addicts. But the health issue extends as well to families of drug dependents many of whom develop unhealthy ways of dealing or coping with an addicted family member.

Fourth, all sectors must come on board the effort to reintegrate drug dependents into mainstream society. This means willingness of the business sector to provide training and job opportunities to recovering addicts. A key support element here is the Narcotics Anonymous (NA) network.

Fifth, we need to realize that drug abuse is but a manifestation of human hearts remaining restless unless they rest in God. The spiritual dimension is essential. Various Christian denominations and even religions must come on board.

There can be no fence sitters in the campaign. All sectors must come together, if there is to be a serious prospect for the success of the fight against drugs. We need to transition from “Tokhang” to “Labang” (“Lahat Bangon”).

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