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September 5, 2017

More than a week ago, President Rodrigo Duterte made the admission that he gravely underestimated the problem on drugs. No, he said finally with a tone of resignation, he will not be able to solve the problem in a few months as he promised, nor even in his entire term.  From the start, I was quite certain he will fail.  But even so, I gave him the benefit of doubt.  Mine was all theory, after all;  and theories being theories, they could be wrong.

The theory is simple, really.   The Law of Supply and Demand tells us that drug prohibition limits distribution alright,  but, and this is crucial, it also jacks up the market price of the product  sky-scraping high.  What otherwise is a cheap commodity sold freely gets to be sold to, if relatively small, a reliable market of do-or-die drug users and addicts willing to pay at any price.  With profit margins so wide,  it makes for an ultra-lucrative money-making  business certain to draw the greed of man.  And it being an illegal product,  business burrows deep underground, well into the hands of a cabal of men whose qualities belong there— crooks, criminals, outlaws— wanting a piece of the action.     In short, prohibition actually,  if inadvertently, creates a wellspring of abundant riches flowing into the wrong hands.

“…abundant riches flowing into the wrong hands”— this should very well be the focal point of attention.   Unfortunately, this is always lost  in the drug debate.  When the crooks  and wicked ones get that easy access to abundant resources to use and dispense, beware, society is in peril.

A drug lord’s detrimental influence on society should be instructive enough by now. From his millions of daily earnings alone, how much, we could only speculate, goes precisely to procuring, silencing, neutralizing  or eliminating  every component of the so-called due process:  witnesses, law enforcers and state agents, lawyers, fiscals and judges, media, even entire communities,  people of influence, and so on an so forth.  It goes with the business.  If his trade should survive, let alone  prosper, illegal as it is, he must sway the  system to his side,  by hook or  by crook, no ifs, no buts.   Justice system and its foundations effectively corrupted,   he gets control of due process.  In fact, every time the critics of Duterte’s brutal war on drugs go screaming “due process!” I could imagine  a drug lord’s wide and satisfied grin on his face.   “Due process, indeed!”  he might as well be muttering too in chorus.   They are in agreement!

Yet, about due process, who could argue with the critics?  Due process is a well founded concept in any civil society.  You do not go merrily chasing and killing suspects on the pretext that these people are a menace to society.  That’s for barbarians.   We live in the modern world where there is due process to observe at all times, if we even consider our society part of it.    There is human rights to respect.  There is a presumption of innocence accorded every suspect.  All these and more rest on deep-rooted principles long before established by the collective wisdom of modern humanity tracing back from the period of Enlightenment and the great minds of ancient times.  In the modern world, it has long served as one of its solid foundations.

But the world is turned upside down.   System thoroughly corrupted,  strange alliances  you find.  Is  there anything more odd than finding drug syndicates on the same side with human rights advocates, lawyers groups , civil society members, academicians, libertarians, religious groups, etc.?  Even the world leaders and the UN agents who at once joined the uproar against  the President’s brutal war must have gotten some applause from the drug lords.   In fact, to escape attention,  the latter could vanish in the shadows in the meantime and leave the fighting to their accidental allies.  When the smoke of the battle clears up, it’s back to business, a more hospitable atmosphere in place through the effort not theirs but of the ardent due process campaigners.

The President understands it so well, even if he does not admit it openly,  that the system is now compromised, rendered helpless  by the power of the drug syndicates over the system.   Drug lords are running rings around law enforcers and the justice system.   Big-time offenders caught in elaborate and costly trapping operations marching out to their freedom so fast,  is source of  frustration, but nothing he can do about it.  Due process, corrupted as it is by the drug syndicates, is tilted in their favor.  To him and his kind, there is only one option left to save society from them: hunt them bastards down and eliminate them one by one with extreme prejudice pronto— due process be damned, Davao City style. Extra judicial killing, they call it.  Or vigilantism.

And he appeared to be succeeding.   There was strong mass support, with the public terrified of escalating crimes so gory and vicious somehow linked to the drug problem.  Tacit approval was granted perhaps  confident  that it is the bad guys who are being hunted and eliminated.    These were justified  killings, they deserved it, or so they held.   Two mayors and thousands of dead later, the public kept its peace, save for the usual noisy critics.   It must have helped  that the people highly trust the President.

Then came Kian de los Santos.   After his killing, the public  mood has changed so drastically, you can feel it.  The campaign has taken a bad turn. A young boy at seventeen from a poor family,  a student,  he  was ostensibly moonlighting on the side running drugs.  Petty connection with drugs notwithstanding, Kian is not your poster boy of villainy, but rather of innocence forced into the pit by the circumstances of his young life.  You do not kill their kind.  You take them under your care to be steered to a better direction.  Young as he is, he could yet be saved.  But he is dead now, apparently executed by overeager, trigger-happy agents of the law inspired, or perhaps confused,  by the President’s repeated expressions of rage and fierce messaging against drug traffickers.

With Kian, suddenly society is confronted with the appalling brutality of such a war.   Shocked and collective conscience pricked,  the public is forced to ask,  just how many killings still must be perpetrated to defeat the scourge?  Ten thousand?  Twenty?  Thirty…. a hundred thousand more?  Suddenly, the people are asking themselves, can we still stomach this kind of violence?    No doubt, Duterte’s war on drugs has suffered a fatal hit.  Another Kian, Duterte’s political  fortunes could start to take a fatal reverse.  As expected, the political opposition is  milking  the tragedy dry for all its worth hoping perhaps it will lead to his downfall.  As in any war, collateral damage, like Kian, is unavoidable.  As collateral damage piles up, expect resistance to grow and grow until he is forced to stop.  I remember former Columbian President Cesar Gaviria who earlier attempted to counsel Duterte about the war on drugs for he too went along the same pathway.  If he took a pause  and listened  to him instead of launching a hail of curses, Duterte would have profited from a good advice instead.  But that is  all water under the bridge now.

Then too, there’s that P6B drug smuggling caper a few weeks ago.   The President must have been stumped, red-faced.   It is  the biggest haul so far in the history of drug enforcement in the country.  That it transpired right smack into the country’s main port of entry is saying a lot.   Wonder if it is not really meant to mock the President and so send home the message: no you can’t, idiot!

It is a dilemma really.  We are dealing with drug users who think nothing wrong of their vice and drug suppliers who think nothing wrong about supplying  their costumer.    Indeed, if we come right down to it ,  what intrinsic wrong could be attributed to the act of using drugs for which a user must be severely punished?  By extension, what inherent wrong does a seller commit in selling that product to his eager buyer that he must go prison for life or die?  Truthfully, none.  So why should they be getting the same punishment as does a murderer or a rapist?

Society of course sees things from a different perspective.  It sees drugs as destructive to society.  Drug use make people commit atrocious crimes. Drugs destroy the human mind.  And so and and so forth.  And so it must act to protect itself by prohibiting drug use and drug trafficking.  If death must be meted, so be it, if the greater interest of the whole society depended on it.

It’s a total clash of perspective and interest .  And somewhere sometime, something’s gotta give.

As it happens,  market forces prevail by the weight of their own laws.  To illustrate, the tighter and stricter the prohibition is, the riskier the business, and tighter too becomes the supply.  The tighter the supply,  where  buyers pay at any price, the more profitable is the business.  Imagine a grain of shabu selling at the price of a grain of gold and you can imagine a drug lord getting richer even more, richer and more powerful than ever.

There is no winning this war.  The earlier we come to terms with this, the better.

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