A broader perspective on the war on drugs

Dealing with the very difficult and complex challenges of the menace brought about by illegal drugs on a nationwide scale greatly necessitates an approach that has far higher and broader perspectives and comprehension of the multifaceted aspects of the problem rather than merely adapting a simplistic city-scale approach of killing drug-involved people.

In this so-called "war on drugs", if killing pushers and users is all there is that we have in our war chest, then our efforts on this war would only end up like a dog chasing its own tail -- only having much of the tiring efforts of perpetual law enforcement but achieving only minimal short periodic success that is very hardly sustainable and has no real and lasting impact on the eradication of the overall problem, just as what happened in other countries who had employed the same approach before.


By Camille Diola
September 19, 2016
PhilStar NewsLab

A global policy shift is underway after the war on drugs that dragged on for decades saw no success. In the Philippines, the same war is just beginning and despite popular support, may be doomed to the same fate.

Over the past months, a country of 100 million watches President Rodrigo Duterte try applying nationally a formula his supporters find to have worked in Davao City, long hailed a haven to honest citizens and a hell to crooks. There, as mayor for 22 years, his iron-fist approach restored security amid vigilante killings and set up social services unusual in the underdeveloped south.

On the campaign trail, Duterte vowed an end to crime and illegal drugs within his first year as president. To do this, he chose to suppress the drug trade through an aggressive, even violent, crackdown on the market. An all-out war.

John Collins, executive director of London School of Economics IDEAS International Drug Policy Project, said the Philippines has declared a war "identical" to those launched in the United States and parts of Latin America and Asia in the past decades. The campaigns led to arrests and deaths but did little to hold back the stream of substances.

"The policies pursued, in this case prohibition and repression, don't succeed in reducing the size of the market and in many cases inflame the violence and corruption associated with the market," Collins told Philstar.com in an email.

Deaths, violence and disease: A policy effect

In Duterte's early months as leader, installed by a record 16 million voters, about 3,500 people have died—almost half were killed in police operations. Duterte's team, however, tried washing its hands over killings outside police function. His top cop, Director General Ronald dela Rosa, said the deaths should not be blamed on the government.

What the world witnessed in countries with wars against cartels like Mexico, however, were deaths and "spiraling levels of violence" which many experts have attributed to an ill-conceived government policy.

"What we find is that aggressive enforcement often spikes violence by disrupting cartel structures, leading to fragmentation of operations whereby members of cartel go to war with each other for control of the organization or splinter into rival groups competing over turf," Collins said.

At least 1,000 leaders, including those whose countries have waged a war against drugs, admitted most recently in April that it was ineffective, misguided and only led to disaster.

"In Latin America, the 'unintended' consequences (of war) have been disastrous. Thousands of people have lost their lives in drug-associated violence. Drug lords have taken over entire communities. Misery has spread. Corruption is undermining fragile democracies," wrote Brazil's President Fernando Henrique Cardoso in 2009.

The drug war in Thailand in 2003 was backed by public support, but the country eventually pulled back from the policy marked by related killings and shunning of drug users as it did little to curb demand. Instead, addicts consumed illegal substances in hiding and diseases eventually spread. Treatment was neither available in prisons.

The United States, where President Richard Nixon called drugs "public enemy number one" in 1971, saw a ballooning number of poor, black people behind bars while drug supply and production were only temporarily disrupted.

"(The war in the US) has destroyed policy-community relations in many areas, and has not noticeably reduced the size of the drug market, merely displaced it in certain cases," Collins said. "The Philippines is witnessing the same dynamic."

What Duterte and his men are not saying, however, is that the Philippines' experience is not at all unique, and some devastating results could already be seen.

Vanda Felbab-Brown, an urban violence and internal conflict expert at the Washington-based Brookings Institution, shared Collins' view. Having tracked and studied drug wars around the world, she observed that while anti-narcotics policies seeking to minimize petty crime and violence naturally target drug supply, there is something striking about Duterte's strategy.

"Duterte's policy is counterproductive and doing the opposite: it is slaughtering people, it is making the retail (drug) market violent—as a result of state actions, extrajudicial killings and vigilante killings," she told Philstar.com in an email.

"Worse yet, it is hiding other forms of violence and murders as neighbors and neighborhood committee members put on the list of drug suspects their rivals and enemies and anyone can be killed and then labeled a pusher," she said.

In an open letter to Duterte, former President Cardoso and colleagues at the Global Commission on Drugs called the Philippines' war "unwinnable" with terrible costs.

"It is not a question of choosing between human rights and the safety of your people, as you have claimed, but the means employed to address crime must not result in further crimes against individuals whose conduct often causes very little harm," the open letter read.

The effects of belligerent, police-led campaigns suffered by other countries are contrary to Duterte's zero-crime and zero-drugs promises. One main reason for failure is how war could only disrupt the supply and demand cycle so far... [continued on the link provided].

Click the link to read the full article: How Duterte's drug war can fail