“Yung mga kasama ko noon, humihitit ng shabu bago bumiyahe,” said Rodel (not his real name), a driver of a popular personal driving service app. He has opened up the topic to me, his passenger, and it was surprising to know that he was quite straightforward in telling that he has seen his fellow bus drivers sniffed some crystal meth or methamphetamine (aka shabu) right before they started their shifts. Apparently, excluding himself, bus drivers and conductors have habitually taken shabu to keep them awake in early morning shifts or straight 24 hour shifts. “Para ka daw bagong gising,” he described.
The topic arose when we were talking about Rody Duterte’s crackdown on illegal drugs. It was lengthy conversation that we’ve had as we crawled throughout our journey along EDSA on a Thursday morning rush hour. The incoming president is not just a hardliner against illegal drugs, he is enraged by it; so much so, that he is willing to have all drug lords, pushers, and users die if need be.
But what is the real score when it comes to eradicating illegal drugs in our country? Ever since Duterte’s win, people have been seeing more and more deaths related to drugs. The police beat reporters never seem to run out of shocking stories to tell as well.
Illegal drugs international data
On a global scale however, the issue on drugs is just as concerning. In the 2016 World Drug Report published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), “it is estimated that 1 in 20 adults, or a quarter of a billion people between the ages of 15 and 64 years, used at least one drug in 2014.” The number of users can be compared to “roughly the equivalent of the combined populations of France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom.”
The report further emphasized that 247 million drug users in 2014, 29 million suffer from drug use disorders. Sadly, only 1 in 6 of these people have been or are in treatment.
And here’s the biggest catch. According to the report, “there is a large and growing market for both methamphetamine tablets and crystalline methamphetamine” in Southeast Asia. It further added that, “in 2014, crystalline methamphetamine was the primary drug of concern in Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines and the Republic of Korea.”
Image taken from UNODC Word Drug Report 2016
This perfectly connects the end-users mentioned by the driver earlier. Shabu use is a growing problem and it has already caused a lot of accidents on the road. Remember the news stories on the killer buses? Need not to mention the bus companies, but the notoriety of public buses speeding off the highway and ending up in a fatal crash is actually caused by drug use. No wonder some of them sounded like freak accidents.
No Forever Summer
Drug use however, is not just prevalent amongst drivers. If it were, drug lords would not be making so much money to the point that they can raise funds as a “cash reward for those who kill Duterte.” Such bold pronouncements can only tell us that there is another connection to this illegal drug trade, the rich, and young party-goers.
It is perhaps an open secret, that behind the walls of the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa, are the Chinese drug syndicate heads cooking shabu like a normal meal. But crystal meth is not the only choice for the moneyed youth. For the past years, the so-called Forever Summer event has been a topline event that invited the best music artists and DJs for one night of reveling. But the euphoria brought about by such an event seemed to be not in a natural way but in an illegal drugs way.
There was no denying that behind the flashy ads and tongue-in-cheek advertising of the toothpaste brand, the popularity of the event was marred with drug use and distribution of it. Rappler did an interesting article on this and it was because of the drugs that people attended the event. The jampacked MOA concert grounds were populated by music, sex, and drugs. And none of the police enforcers were able to shut down a party that left 4 teenagers dead, their hearts burnt to black.
The drugs suspected to have been used were traced back to a so-called “green amore” pill, among with other tablets like ecstasy.
The Duterte Effect
When Rodrigo Duterte ran for president, he vowed to eradicate (or okay, lessen) criminality in the country within 3 to 6 months. This is now something he still wants to commit to once he takes his seat by June 30.
But even if his presidency is not yet in effect, people have been feeling the so-called “Duterte Effect.” His character is so powerful and intimidating to criminals that some have openly volunteered to surrender themselves to the police. On the other hand, the tainted police force, as described by Duterte, seemed to have pressed the panic button and went on a killing spree to eradicate people involved in the drug trade.
The Philippine National Police (PNP) already noted that around 68 drug-related suspects have already been killed since January of 2016. In the 2015 statistical report from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), more than 9,000 people have been arrested out of the 11,542 operations conducted.
The problem is, those who got killed don’t seem to measure up to the real situation. Meaning to say, certain people speculate that the police are just eradicating their assets to cover up their own involvement in the drug trade. Duterte himself revealed to the media that there were 35 local executives involved in the illegal drug trade. There is so much more in the PNP rumor mill where police officers get involved in the illegal drugs confiscated. General Rolando ‘Bato’ dela Rosa, Duterte’s handpicked PNP Chief, backs this by asking the corrupt police officials to pack their bags before he and his boss assume their positions.
With such a strong political message from Duterte, other government leaders have taken drug busting into their own hands as well. Tomas Osmena, mayor of Cebu, and Antonio Halili, mayor of Tanauan, Batangas have used controversial means to handle the drug problems in their areas. Osmena offered cash rewards to citizens who get to kill a drug pusher while Halili permits a ‘walk of shame’ for those who have been arrested for drug-dealing.
The crackdown on drugs has definitely been a growing issue, and this has been happening even prior to Duterte officially taking the presidential helm. It will be a headache for everyone in the Commission on Human Rights but for now, it seems this is the only way forward in eliminating illegal drugs in the country.