Book addresses Duterte’s unwinnable war on drugs | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

Book addresses Duterte’s unwinnable war on drugs

Book addresses Duterte’s unwinnable war on drugs

For over five years, the Duterte administration waged a war on drugs that President Duterte himself declared unwinnable. This went from Duterte’s campaign-trail bravura that he would end all illegal drug activity in the Philippines within six months in 2016, to declaring a war on drugs and the creation of “Oplan Tokhang.”

In 2017, Duterte admitted that his war on drugs was “unwinnable” and, as unwinnable as it is, that war still rages, with tens of thousands slain, including children as young as 4 who were deemed collateral damage. There is no remorse from the chief executive over this, and no calls to stop the war that kills mostly poor Filipinos, and yet yields no end to the illicit drug trade in the country.

Out of this darkness comes some light, with a collection of research papers that combine the academic rigor of such work with keen and insightful writing based on those facts gleaned, gathered, vetted and presented in the correct context by their authors.

Contributors from multiple disciplines came together under the editorship of Inquirer columnist Gideon Lasco to create a book titled “Drugs and Philippine Society” (Bughaw, an imprint of Ateneo de Manila University Press, Quezon City, 2021) that explores the many complicated strands of the country’s illegal drug problem, and how Duterte’s war on drugs has affected Filipinos across the archipelago.

Deep insights

Beyond appealing to the emotions of any reader, a nonfiction work based on social sciences research should present actionable facts. In this context, Lasco’s collection offers many deep insights that are vital to effectively addressing the problem of illicit drug use and spread. Here’s hoping that the country’s policymakers peruse it well, and take in the data provided so they will actually have good scientific input for the decisions they make—both to prevent any further spread of the verboten substances, and to stop people from using them in the first place.

“If Jose Rizal were alive today, he would probably be found dead on a Manila street with a crude cardboard sign identifying him as a drug user.” Historian Ambeth Ocampo opens his essay “Rizal the User” with this sentence. After discussing the history of narcotics use in the Philippines, he adds this: “Reflecting on the growing number of corpses of suspected drug pushers and users on the streets has made me ask how long it will take before people realize that extrajudicial killings are not right.”

The multiple problems brought to this archipelago by illicit drugs have persisted since long before Duterte was elected president. They are likely to persist even after his tenure in the Palace ends. One cannot defeat an enemy one does not understand—and if one is to take on a menace as old and multipronged as the illegal drug trade, then the solutions will have to be many-faceted, well crafted, and based on sound and vetted information that is actionable and as accessible to the ordinary person as it is to the powers that be.

Smallest details

We must see where Oplan Tokhang fails so spectacularly, combing through the smallest details, if we are to find a way to address the problem with anything even approaching effectiveness.

Lasco’s own piece deals with the use of methamphetamine hydrochloride, also called “shabu,” or crystal meth. “Pampagilas: Methamphetamine in the Everyday Economic Lives of Underclass Male youths in a Philippine Port” explores quite thoroughly the use of shabu as a performance enhancer.

In the ports Lasco included in his study, “underclass young people work as vendors, selling food and beverages to the thousands of passengers who pass through them on a daily basis. For over a year, I hung out with these young people and interviewed 20 of them to understand their lives and their use of methamphetamine.”

He detailed the other activities of these vendors—not so legal ones, at that, and wrote that “[m]ethamphetamine is locally known as pampagilas (‘booster of skill and performance’) and pampasipag (‘booster of industriousness’). Using methamphetamine enhances endurance and the body’s energy: ‘Of course you will keep using shabu so you can overcome the fatigue in work … because you get tired. [But] if you’ve taken drugs, you won’t get tired.’”

From Filomin C. Gutierrez’s piece, “Walang Kalaban-laban: Counternarratives of Arrested Persons in the War on Drugs,” comes what the author calls a “composite reconstruction” of the interviews he undertook. Here is an excerpt: “Those who were truly guilty, fought back (nanlaban), and were killed probably deserved their death, but a majority of those killed were defenseless [walang kalaban-laban]. In a way, being in jail has spared me from death.”

Clear and strong

In “Between the State and the Frontline,” Anna Braemer Warburg explored the Philippine National Police end of the drug war, taking readers with her into Camp Crame, the PNP headquarters, quoting then PNP spokesperson (and now PNP chief) Gen. Dionardo B. Carlos: “If you read the paper or watch the news, they say, ‘In our account, we now see 7,000-plus extrajudicial killings in the campaign against illegal drugs.’ That is a misrepresentation of data. They want to build a perception. They want to build a mindset of the people that there are 7,000 people killed. Extrajudicial killings.”

Warburg wrote that “disregarding whether the narratives of the police are consistent with their actual practices, one must remember that multiple logics inform how the police project themselves and their practices. By the same logic, policing the war on drugs must therefore be viewed in light of its wider political context.”

This collection of studies is extremely well researched, and the presentation of its data sets is clear and strong—and the transparency in the research methodologies only makes the studies that much more powerful. I recommend that everyone who can get hold of this book do so, and read it as carefully as one would ask their legislators, local chief executive, or members of the PNP to read it. Never ask someone else to do something you wouldn’t do yourself.

The social sciences aim to inform the people about the world around them, in greater depth than the transitory headlines of a news report can, and if one is to come out of this doomed drug war with anything worth working on, it is important that they understand the underpinnings of it. This is how science-based decision-making should be done. Read it, and you’ll get what I mean. —CONTRIBUTED

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