In its most simplistic form, we can describe the drug war as being made up of suppliers and users. In between them is the government trying to stop the whole cycle and around them is a slew of issues on how to put an end to it.
The US, which has been in the forefront of the drug war, has mostly focused on the supply side. It funneled lots of its resources in interdicting the supply of drugs while neglecting treatment and education strategies that could reduce its effects on the users. And despite its efforts, the US has been declared as having miserably failed in its drug war.
The Philippines, on the other hand, focused on the demand side, i.e. the users. It placed at the forefront of its drug war the PNP that immediately went after the users, identified them and instilled a terror campaign enough to force those still unidentified to come out and surrender. The basic strategy used however brought about the much-maligned statistic of more than 7,000 killed. You add the melodramatic observation that most of the dead were from the depressed areas; you have the controversial Philippine version of the drug war referred to by the opposition as a War on the Poor. But similar to the US, the Philippine fell short of instituting efforts in supply interdiction. The common observation was that despite the capture of shabu laboratories and manufacturing facilities, no big time foreign drug lord has ever been captured. A few local middlemen were caught but some were even made state witnesses to another high profile alleged drug related case.
Both the US and the Philippines apparently chose only one side of the war to work on almost leaving the other side unattended.
The Philippines luckily has observed its effects early on and immediately took corrective actions of putting the war in abeyance for a while as it pause to re-strategize. The obvious and rampant police abuses put to question the ability of the PNP to wage an honest to goodness war. The number of police scalawags was just too much. Policemen can easily be bought or corrupted and drug protectors seemed to go all the way to the highest echelons of the police force. It was just right then to get them out of the war and assign the effort instead to the more specialized PDEA agents – aided by the military. Lately however, the President has again changed his mind and allowed the PNP to be involved again in the war. He hoped that probably this time. the police must have learned its mistakes and would know already what to do and how to do it better.
It is in this regard that we strongly recommend that the government- through the police, the PDEA and the military, to now focus on the supply side of the drug war but wage one that is better than what the US has done. With the benefit of all the lessons it has learned, the PNP can adopt a major paradigm shift where instead of catching users or addicts like before, the PNP focus on catching the drug lords, manufacturers, importers, couriers, protectors and pushers this time. These are the enemies actually.
Controlling the demand side, while easier and has more visible and almost immediate results, led to lots of push back mainly from human rights advocates. The war on the supply side is going to be far more difficult- prone to corruption and success stories might come in trickles. If ever these people put up a fight, the ensuing gun-battle will really be nasty and bloody on both sides. Drug lords will put up all the fight they can muster. This business is so filthy lucrative that they will fight tooth and nail just so they can continue to be in business. So much money is at stake that they will pour all money available to corrupt authorities and arm themselves to the teeth. We all know that drug lords are not called LORDS for nothing. They can buy entire nations and any person’s entire soul.
I hope the PNP finally adopt this paradigm shift. I heard the president said it is up to the PNP do this. The first War was successful per their assessment but was controversial. They can try this tact to show they also learn to do things better and that they also listen to their stakeholders. There is nothing better than aiming for a difficult objective and then win it.
While the focus is on the suppliers, if a user is caught in the process, then all must be captured and prosecuted. The point is the PNP should stop making shortcuts and do the basic case build up that can stand in court. Since the cases will be on big time pushers, I think the effort of the PDEA/PNP will all be worth it. This time, I don’t think there will still be a sector among the citizenry left that is not supportive of this war.
If we really mean business in solving this scourge called drugs then we must go for the jugular. Kill the suppliers of the illegal stuff. No drugs no addicts. In the old way, when you kill an addict, there will be new addicts to take his place. No more rhetoric this time. No need for sound bites. Just stop the supply and everything downstream will dry up – at least while this war is the flagship program of the administration.
Unlike the US which actually has a very porous boundary with its neighbors, the Philippines can easily control the supply since it is an insular country with no common land boundaries with other countries. By controlling its air and seaports, the supply can be fully interdicted.
I am not advocating pure supply-side interventions though. The government should also focus on effective treatment and education programs aimed at addressing the harms and causes of drug misuse. Since there had been millions of identified drug users, then the rehabilitation of these people must continue and followed through to ensure they will not return to being addicts again. The Philippines can try what the other more progressive countries are doing to really curb the menace. Admittedly, since we are going to do this intervention only now when there are already too many addicts, this program will surely be very expensive and could drain the nation coffers substantially. But in time however, this might just prove to be a more sustainable and defensible course of action – if this is what this administration has set its targets on.
But we must learn to live with the reality of drugs and drug use and find solutions based on common sense and sound economic principles. To aim for the total eradication of drugs and the resulting crime that it causes is virtually an impossible objective. So long as there are men and so long as men interact with one another, there will always be crimes. Fighting crime or drugs is a never-ending activity. There could never an end in sight. There can only be a continuing police work. In this regard, the police must adopt an attainable objective of say an acceptable number of cases per thousand populace – not a zero crime rate by a certain target date.
As they run after the big time drug lords, our police forces would need lots of help and support. Intelligence work must be sustained. Police operations must be well planned and coordinated. This time, I am pretty sure there won’t be any push back from the people anymore. The enemies are clearly identified and they will surely be not the ordinary petty poor folks. The enemies are ready so the police better watch out. They better train and prepare well – for their lives and in the service of the Filipino people.