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Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Harsh Reality Of The Philippine Drug War

“Because I’ve been losing sleep over friends who are possibly in danger of being killed in this war against drugs, I decided to write this post.
I’m disappointed in so many people who simply see the issue just as one where human rights are endangered (read: summary executions). More worrisome are those who use the issue to lambast Duterte for this “culture of killing”. It’s not a simple issue. And certainly not one we can see in black and white. I deplore the situation but I see it more as a historical inevitability. Everything has led to this: a bloody war.
I grew up with shabu (meth for my non-Filipino friends) available all around. Many of my friends and loved ones became addicted to it. Because of them, I got to take it on more than a few occasions. I understand the lure. You feel invincible. You forget your worries and pains. You don’t get hungry. At least until the “tugpa”, when the drug wears off. Fearing the despair, hunger, and total exhaustion it brings, many take it again before the tugpa, thus starting them on the road to addiction.
The addict becomes a problem when he or she is driven to crime to pay for his drug dependence. It pushes them to steal their mothers’ wedding rings. It pushes them to snatch bags on the street. Relationships are wrecked. Families are devastated.
Further on, the user is enticed to sell shabu. I know of friends and neighbors who were attracted to the promise of riches. My own uncle, at 70 years old, was even approached by a pusher to resell. His age was the perfect foil. He refused. But there are many who grabbed the opportunity. A friend said that corrupt policemen sell them bags of confiscated drugs. 50,000 for a loot that you can sell for 200,000? Why not?
But the business comes with a price. You shut your mouth and stay to perpetuate the system. Or die. This “culture of killing” that is on the mouths of new human rights defenders (unfortunately coming from the erstwhile anti-Digong LP supporters) has been going on for years. The drug cartels own the communities. Long before Digong came to Malacanang, those who had dealings in this underworld feared the druglords. In Surigao, those who try to get out and reform are gunned down in broad daylight. The druglords are the top politicians and generals. We have known it for years. But no one challenged them. Of course. Do you want to die the next day? Found floating off the coast of Ozamis?
I have been an activist since 1998. If I hadn’t been recruited, I would be an addict today. No doubt about it. Our communities are dens of drug dependents. I understand the issue from the inside and outside. If you lived in your little urbanite middle-class world without seeing the reality of Mafia-style murders, of course you’d be screaming now to the high heavens: Duterte is encouraging summary killings! I can’t blame you. That’s all you see from the outside. Also, moralist posturing aside, it is admirable that you care about the drug pushers who are now being silenced by the cartels. But I must say, some posts do come off as propaganda against our new president. Oh really, come now, you say there’s no such motive?
The world is not as simple as “innocent until proven guilty” or fighting against “barbaric” methods of crime-busting. You claim, innocent people are being killed by Duterte’s vigilantism. Where is the proof? Well, I have it from the horses’ mouth: the druglords are desperately covering up their tracks. It doesn’t matter how high up or low in the ranks you are, what matters is that you might squeal.
The shabu underworld is an open secret in poor communities. Before Duterte named the generals, I could rattle off the names on our local PDEA list of drug pushers. Everyone knew the bosses and where they were (usually in the hallowed halls of the city hall, capitol or congress). And we see them leading merry lives, building their big houses and stacking up piles of weapons to kill off “traitors” and rival gangs.
The enemies have guns and are ready to kill. Some of my friends and family who got involved one way or another in the underworld have flown or disappeared off the grid. They are more afraid of the druglords than Duterte. The latter doesn’t know them, but the former does. Who is more likely to silence them?
The shabu problem is so deep and wide. We have arrived at a historical inevitability. There is no way to fight this war without using guns. When the enemy is that powerful and has enjoyed impunity for so long, do you think putting cardboard signs around your neck protesting the possibilities of killing the innocent will help? No. You’re just giving the druglords the perfect cover for their execution of possible witnesses. And yes! It puts the blame on the President to boot.
I work in a humanitarian aid NGO. I work with human rights in mind. And yet, I can’t help my own friends who have been mired in this nightmare. My own life has been impacted by drugs so much. I have shed so many tears over it. I lost a man I loved deeply to it. Until you know what it feels like to see a loved one turning into a drug dependent, you will not fully understand the issue. Until you know how it feels like to be hopeless and helpless against the powerful shabu mafia, you will just be making shallow, generalizing protests. Perhaps a little nuance other than the usual, “this is the president you voted, the savagery you installed” or “everyone can be drug pushers”? Why not ask about how the drug cartels work? Why not ask us who have known violence and crime done by the cartels?
Or… ask me how, in the wee hours, I get panicked calls from a beloved, fearing that he’s being watched? Ask me about the heartbreak of finding out that your own boyfriend has stolen from you. Tell me, who is to blame for it? Is it me for trusting and loving unconditionally? Is it him for lacking the resolve to quit? Or is there a bigger social ill that has thrust us all into this cycle of violence?
Damn. My heart is tired.”
[*Due to the writers need for privacy, her identity shall remain anonymous. This is due to the vindictive nature of the drug cartels, users, and pushers in the Philippines. All of which is based upon her firsthand knowledge and experience.

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