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Fighting drugs Portugal’s way

  • Written by Mario Fetalino Jr.
  • Published in Opinion
  • Read: 481

REMEMBER that young architecture student killed by drug addicts in Taguig last month? I saw the video footage of the crime and it’s harrowing.

I pity the victim and grieve for his parents who might be asking why the tragedy happened despite the government’s war on drugs.

While many, including this corner, thought that our streets are already safe even at night, the bloody incident  reminds us that the government’s campaign against illegal drugs has a long way to go before it can claim success.
But the supply of prohibited drugs are already down as reported by the Philippine National Police. Such is a huge accomplishment by the administration of President Duterte who deserves recognition since no other leadership was able to do the same in the past.
The question now is what’s next. How would the government go for the jugular to finally stop  the drug menace so that senseless killing such as what happened to that poor boy won’t be repeated?
Well, reports said Duterte is asking help from the legislative department.  It can be perceived  in two ways. One is that the President wants lawmakers to give him more power to pounce on drugs. The other is best explained by a lawyer.
Atty. Pearlito B. Campanilla opined that any campaign against  illegal drugs will be unsuccessful as long as there is a rabid demand for its use. It is market-driven and the only way to put an end to this menace is to treat the problem using business models and carry on tried and tested business practices to halt its momentum such as drying the market.
Campanilla, lead convenor of Lawyers for Economic Advancement of the Philippines (LEAP), said the war on illegal drug trade gained momentum on the day its use  was treated as a criminal act. 
Just like the bootlegging prohibition in the United States in the 1920s towards the early 1930s, cartels and syndicates emerged and became vastly powerful to wield societal control. To wage a violent war against them was futile.
The government of Colombia thought it would be having better days when its most popular narco-personality, Pablo Escobar, was killed by government forces.  But then, the Medellin Cartel, the most vicious and most brutal syndicate of the illegal drug industry was just replaced by the Cali Cartel.
By the year 1990, it was reportedly reaping multi-billion dollars selling cocaine to the rest of the world. Global efforts to eradicate the Cali Cartel failed. The demise of the Cali Cartel only gave rise to the increase in power and influence of drug organizations in Mexico and China, Campanilla said.
The lawyer said violent wars against illegal drugs just kept on producing violent deaths, including collateral damages, with no positive result.  For the period 2006 to 2012, Mexico was estimated to have produced drug related deaths in the vicinity of 60,000. Estimated drug related deaths rose to 120,000 in the year 2013 with about 27,000 individuals missing. Yet, such  pestilence and scourge remain unabated.
In the Philippines,  five to 15  individuals end up dead in the drug war covered by the media. Mothers wailing over the bullet-ridden bodies of their children, wives weeping over the perforated bodies of their husbands and minors mourning over the caskets of their parents whose lives were ended by present day war against illegal drugs.
And still, violence apparently does not hinder nor discourage illegal drug traders from pursuing their illegal business. For violence has always been a given in this kind of equation, continued Campanilla.
Owing to its geographical location, international drug syndicates favor  using the Philippines as a transit hub. Because of the economical needs of our countrymen, OFWs are still being used as drug mules. As a result of  dysfunctional families, many of our youth succumbed to party drugs, Campanilla said.
But what do countries with less problem on illegal drugs have which our beloved country does not?  For one thing, the lawyer said they did not resort to extra judicial killing.  They sanitized their judicial system to ensure that punishment falls to the head of those who deserve it and not to those that don’t.
They strengthened law enforcements in the sense that drug offenders are caught, tried and jailed with no sacred cows and double standards. They assist in the formation of family values to prevent dysfunctional families which primarily is the cause why individuals start to take on illegal drugs.
They treat the drug problem more as a health issue than a law enforcement issue, thus, putting more thrust in rehabilitation of drug addicts rather than putting them behind bars, said Campanilla.
One country, Portugal, went totally out of the box, mentioned the lawyer. About more than a decade ago, Portugal put the world in awe by decriminalizing the use and trade of illegal drugs. After so many years of failing to curb this problem, the Portuguese government implemented a totally extra-ordinary  approach.
Instead of sending drug addicts to jail, the individual hooked on drugs is ordered mandatory treatment or rehabilitation instead of jail time. Drug trade is regulated and thrust on research to treat its negative side effects were beefed up.
Statistics show that the use of drugs at some point initially increased after decriminalization, but then it declined. Apparently, the people’s logic and common sense began to get the better of them.
The citizens of Portugal simply got tired of drugs and on their own veered away from it. Contrary to the belief of many, Portugal had not been run into the ground by a nation of drug addicts, continued Campanilla.
“I am not sure that decriminalizing illegal drug use and trade will work in the Philippines just like it did in Portugal. What I am saying is that it should be included as one of those solutions that should be mulled about by our leaders as an alternative to a violent drug war,” Campanilla said.
“Instead of killing our relatives, friends or neighbors hooked on illegal drugs, let us convert them into  productive members of the community. Impose upon them civic obligations like planting of trees, sweeping of streets, cleaning  the esteros, dredging the Pasig River, etc. Decriminalizing does not mean making the illegal drug use as legal,” Campanilla.
“Those with skills can help in the repair of public schools and hospitals. Imagine decongesting our jails and lifting the social burden of financing the health and educational needs of the countless widows and orphans of drug addicts and pushers. The police therefore can concentrate on what they are preliminarily tasked to do which is to go after criminals,”  Campanilla said.
Compliance can be enforced by curtailing basic rights and privileges. Depending on the seriousness of being a drug dependent, a drug addict’s right to work, engage in a business or even drive  a motor vehicle should be suspended until they submit a medical certificate that they are drug-free.
Suspended also is their right to vote or be voted upon. The government should make it economically difficult for drug addicts to earn and finance their vice. Parents or spouses who finance the drug activity of their children or spouse will also be punished.
Employers who put people at risk by employing dangerous shabu addicts should be heavily fined.  This will ultimately dry the market from drug addicts who will no longer have the money to buy illegal drugs, said Campanilla.
Finally, Campanilla said, “there are no absolutely correct wars, including wars against illegal drugs. We need not throw our civilization down the garbage bin for the sake of fighting a war that need not be fought. For as has been aptly said, in all wars, there are no victors, only victims. It does not fulfill dreams, but gives a surreal nightmare. Definitely not a journey to heaven, but a vivid glimpse of hell.”
Would Duterte ask Congress to decriminalize illegal drugs? You’re guess is as good as mine.

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