No other subject has been marred in both controversy and confusion than dangerous drugs.

Let’s face it, it’s the most misunderstood and feared of all social ills. The narratives on which society and government have based their largely punitive responses to the problem seem to carry with them all but irrefutable facts.

Is there a direct scientific or medical correlation between dangerous drugs and heinous crime like murder or rape? Are punitive and vindictive laws enough to inhibit addiction? Is State-sponsored violence, such as the drug war, sufficient to stop the spread of this socioeconomic disease? Should society treat drug addiction as a crime or a medical issue?

Is it possible to reduce the harm drug users face in relation to punitive laws? Whatever discussion we may have on how to deal with drug users in the most humane way possible should not turn a blind eye from the people who fell as victims of violations long believed to have been the upshot of drug use.

There is so much to unpack. Fear has muddled any attempt to understand its profounder implications, relegating the issue mostly along the lines of urban myths and unscientific preconceptions. So much so, in fact, that after six bloody years of the drug war, the country is nowhere near to solving the problem than when it first started.

Furthermore, if you think the drug war has simmered down after Rodrigo Duterte took his leave of office, think again.

Of the 301 who fell in the continuing drug war from January 1 to November 30 this year, 11 had been killed from November 23-30, only a matter of days from each other. There’s one in Batangas, two in Bulacan, one each in Cebu and Davao del Sur, respectively; another one in Laguna, two in Leyte, one in the National Capital Region, and two in Negros Occidental.

The latest figures come from Dahas, a quick-count program of the Third World Studies Center of the University of the Philippines-Diliman. It monitors drug war violence and, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW), reveals how the Philippine National Police has been downplaying the numbers in its recent statement, saying “the death toll since the inauguration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. was ‘very minimal.’”

“The program,” according to HRW, tallied “127 people were killed in ‘drug war’ incidents from July 1, the day after Marcos was sworn in, to November 7.” The PNP, on the other hand, reported only 46.
Apparently, the bloodbath has not stopped, and seems to have no plans of stopping its retributory blitzkrieg under a Marcos Jr. administration.

This begs the question: after a death toll of more than 30,000 under Duterte, did the drug war accomplish its mission? Was it even necessary to begin with? If it achieved its mission, then why the continuity?

Filipinos will have to take a much-needed pause to seriously reassess the situation: are we really going to simply look away and let this continue?



Last night, I and several other journalists met with Carlos “Caloy” Conde of Human Rights Watch for an informal conversation on dangerous drugs, its users and peddlers, and what could be the possible remedies that could help stem the State’s punitive and violent response to the problem.

The informal discussion was an eye-opener even for one like me who has always thought of drug use as a strictly medical issue, not a criminal one. And this is not without authoritative basis. In fact, in Canada and elsewhere in the world, studies parsing the complex relationship between dangerous drugs and crime are nearing a more humane perspective:

“Illegal drug use is ‘almost automatically’ associated with criminal behaviour. The statistical relationship between illegal drug use and crime is convincing at first glance, but it is not possible to draw a conclusion regarding a definite cause-and-effect link between the two phenomena. The suggestion that drugs lead to crime ignores the impact that living conditions can have on an individual and takes no account […] of a body of data showing that most illegal drug users… will never be regular users. It bears repeating that drug use is still, for the most part, a sporadic, recreational, exploratory activity. Most people are able to manage their drug use without any difficulty. Very few will become regular users, and even fewer will develop a drug addiction. Studies of the link between drug use and crime are currently going through a paradigmatic crisis.”

In other words, fear has long been the thread that strings together our current narratives about dangerous drugs. Our violent responses to the problem prove that.

We cannot rely on simplistic plotlines to address a superfluously complex socioeconomic phenomenon. But we must begin somewhere, and a scientific narrative is a good place to start.