Was This About Pia?

Cesar Gaviria, former President of Colombia, came out with a NY Times op-ed entitled “Mr. Duterte Is Repeating My Mistakes”. Mr. Gaviria argues the drug war cannot be won by gunning down every addict. It requires a holistic approach that combines public health, human rights and economic development with strong criminal enforcement. Perhaps Gaviria was sour-graping over the loss of Miss Colombia to Pia Wurtzbach as Miss Universe; but, having taken down Pablo Escobar,  he does know a little of what he speaks. President Duterte’s reply: “The man is an idiot”.

Ok, that reaction was not particularly helpful so let’s elevate the discussion; but first some context. One, Gaviria admits Colombia is still drug ridden so his solution has not entirely worked. Nonetheless, Colombia is now more progressive and safe: It recently ended a decades long fight with the FARCS, the revolutionary force that had a hand in the drug trade.

Two, our drug problem is serious but nowhere near Colombia’s. Notably the local cartels do not have a military arm as in Colombia. They operate mainly through a network of paid politicians, judges and the PNP to do their dirty work for them.

Three, while cocaine is an agricultural industry that employs thousands of Colombians and offers a parallel Government, “shabu” in the Philippines is not a vast employer and does not have a political face.

So why can we not contain the drug menace? Why does the President threaten the country with martial law if his Government cannot solve the issue?  Drugs in the Philippines are imported and financed by foreign suppliers, processed and distributed by drug lords basking in the luxury of the Bilibid Maximum Security Prison, and protected by a matrix of criminal police elements, politicians and judges. How exactly does martial law help? Why suspend the writ of habeas corpus when EJK works even better? If anything martial law will strengthen and institutionalize the police powers that the President now recognizes is at the core of the drug problem. Now if martial law could result in the wholesale killing of the drug czars in Bilibid (“Last night there was an unfortunate fire in Maximum with no survivors”) and the EJK of erring policemen, then we are talking.

The President has officially suspended the War On Drugs following the killing of a Korean businessman by rogue cops in Camp Crame. It appears the strangulation of one rich foreigner, however tragic, did more than the death of 7,000 lowly Filipinos; to defer what was touted as a national security menace, the heart and soul of this Administration and the perdition of the country for generations to come. Thousands of Filipinos killed and no official remorse but one foreign death and Presidential Emissary Salvador Pamelo is dispatched to Seoul to apologize. Am I missing something here?

The War On Drugs was suspended because Malacanang now realizes the problem is not with the druggies but with those tasked to enforce the law. The PNP is headed by Gen. Bato de la Rosa who is seemingly a really nice guy (but with a weakness for Bryan Adams so he is not perfect, but who is?). Bato looks the part but is clearly over his head. His principal asset is his loyalty to the President but he is struggling with a recalcitrant police corps. Dealing with Davao crime is one thing, dealing with a corrupt national enforcement agency is another. PNP management is obviously running rings around its chief. They do not tell their boss that the man against whom Bato publicly launched a man-hunt was sitting in an office next door. PNP Supt. Melvin Marcos allegedly eliminated Mayor Espinosa while in jail with Bato clueless and countermanded by the President when he did suspend Marcos. It appears Bato is not only out of his professional depth but also out of his emotional one: He is in tears over his frustration with the PNP, he puts a friendly hand to the shoulders of Ronnie Dayan, the reported bag person of Sen. De Lima; he is overly attentive to suspected drug heavyweight Kerwin Espinosa at the Senate hearing. Bato, as I said, is that nice.

Malacanang’s solution is to relieve the PNP of its drug responsibility and hand it to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, a small office with a big name. And if that does not work –and why should cloaking the goons with another name work?- Plan C is to bring in the Army directly or under the guise of a revived Philippine Constabulary. The danger here is of contaminating our soldiers and fanning a turf war between two armed branches of Government. It is enough that the NBI (under the DOJ) and the PNP (under Interior) are often at odds, we now add the Army (under Defense) to complicate the chain of command not to mention the firefights that could ensue when each gets into the other’s way. As Trump would say, a terrible idea. The PNP simply needs a revamp with a ruthless but honest chief who will get the 60% of the cops who are clean take down the 40% who are not.

To this the President should, at the risk of agreeing with the Colombian ‘idiot”, adopt a universal approach that encompasses rehabilitation, education and livelihood. But that will not happen unless he sees drug addicts not as parasites but as persons with weaknesses; who sees drugs not as a crime but a disease; and who can take a humane perspective to the problem. Duterte has intimated all addicts deserve to die since they are incurable and a burden to society. I guess the same could apply to seniors with life-threatening ailments and the handicapped who tax our public health system.

If social efficiency is the standard for governance then maybe he is right. Hitler certainly would agree with him on this.