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The war on drugs

When President Rodrigo Duterte won by a landslide in the May 2016 national elections, he hit the ground running on a number of key promises he made during the campaign. But nothing is more controversial than the campaign against drugs and criminality he unleashed even before he was sworn into office.

To this day, the so-called “war on drugs” is being waged by the government with a vigor that we have never seen before. The same vigor and passion can also be seen from those who support and oppose this campaign.

The latest figures on the war on drugs that I saw from the Philippine National Police (PNP) were very instructive.

The national police reported that they have visited a total of 6,719,603 houses as part of its program of persuading suspected drug users to submit themselves to drug rehabilitation.

This is an essential part of the war on drugs: provide drug users and pushers with the opportunity to change their ways.

As a result, a little over one million people have surrendered to authorities since July 2016. More than 1,117,433 of those admitted they use illegal drugs while 75,000 are known pushers. This has not happened before.

Can you remember a time when drug users and pushers voluntarily surrendered to law enforcement? It is happening now because the tough stance of the President has made drug offenders realize that this administration means business.

For this reason, we all need to help government in making sure that we rehabilitate those who surrendered and give them the opportunity to turn a new leaf.

For our part, the Villar Foundation has opened the doors of our farm school to drug dependents who genuinely want to be rehabilitated.

In fact as early as 1994, we have been helping in our campaign against drugs through the Sagip Bukas (Save the Future) program. Sagip Bukas is a school-based education initiative which targets 5th and 6th graders as well as teachers and parents. To date, around 80,000 beneficiaries have participated in the program.

Not everyone heeded the appeal to reason and decided to fight the war on drugs. Police data show that a total of 2,503 drug personalities have been killed so far with 51,547 arrested.

The issue that divides the country is the ‘vigilante-style killings’ of suspected drug personalities. The police have admitted that per their records, more than 4,000 suspected drug offenders have been killed in this manner.

But as we have learned in the past, statistics, while important, cannot give us the whole picture. The war on drugs cannot be understood simply through statistics but by looking at our communities and our general feeling of security and order.

I think the campaign against illegal drugs and criminality by this administration has opened our eyes to how much we have underestimated the problem of drugs in our communities. Sure, we know some people abuse drugs. We have read stories in the newspapers of drug lords and pushers. But we never knew it was this endemic.

The Nationwide Survey on the Nature and Extent of Drug Abuse in the Philippines commissioned by the Dangerous Drugs Board revealed that 1.8 million Filipinos currently use drugs and that 4.8 million Filipinos aged 10-69 years old used illegal drugs at least once in their lives.

I suspect that these numbers are deflated. Would you admit to someone administering the surveys that you are a drug user? I think not.

The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) reported late last year that more than 11,000 barangays in the country are drug-affected. In NCR, it is an astonishing 92% of barangays affected by drugs.

But what the war on drugs has accomplished is shake the world of illegal drugs and criminality to its core. With his tough stance and his strong language, President Duterte has shattered the protective bubble of these criminals. Now they are on the run.

People who criticize the President needs to understand that softball tactics will never work with drug lords. They need to be pursued with “shock and awe.” This is the language they understand.

I understand the concern of some sectors worried about extra-judicial killings. But fundamental fairness dictates that these accusations against law enforcement should be filed and properly investigated before we draw any conclusion about “state-sponsored extrajudicial killings.”

I also agree that there are very few members of the police force who may abuse their authority. We need to address them and charge them appropriately. The President has always been very clear about his orders to the police: Be relentless in the war on drugs within the confines of the law. He is, after all, a lawyer and a former prosecutor. He has also issued an equally stern warning to police officers who would violate the law.

But there is another number we seem to be forgetting. The crime rate is down by 32%. Again, imagine what that number means. Imagine mothers worrying less about their daughters who work at call centers and who go home at midnight.

Imagine communities enjoying relative peace as they no longer worry about their sons being hooked on shabu sold by their neighbors.

Before, communities live in fear while drug addicts and drug lords strut around as if they own the place. Now, it is slowly changing. People feel safer while drug lords fear for their safety and their lives.

I wish we can unite behind the efforts of the President Duterte to rid our country of drugs. For a long time, we have listened to promises after promises that our peace and order situation would improve. Now we have a government hell-bent on protecting our families and communities. I believe they deserve our support.

(For comments.feedback email to”mbv.secretariat@gmail or visit www.mannyvillar.com.ph.) (Senator Manny Villar)

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