What I would say if I were president

By Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr.

(Politiko note: This article was originally published on Politiko 365 magazine in 2017 when Sec. Locsin served as the country’s representative to the United Nations)

Seven thousand dead into the government’s war on drugs, still the drug trade continues. One presidential threat after another has not diminished the trade. Two thousand of the seven thousand were killed during police operations. The bodies at the encounters attest we are hiding nothing. Enforced disappearances, as in US-backed anti-communist campaigns, would make it impossible to exact accountability. The rest of the dead must be accounted for by killers for hire, misnamed as vigilantes who take the law in their own hands because the law itself does not. The killers do it for money. The drug war has provoked a fierce reaction from the very public the drug war seeks to protect. Yet still the spread of drug trade goes on. It is as if the supply of the poor, whose desperation makes them the easiest recruits of the drug trade, is inexhaustible.

A resort to reason and compassion is an alternative approach. But you wonder how reason can trump the easy profits of the trade. Money silences reason.

You wonder how an appeal to the perpetrators and to their victims can get the appropriate responses: on the one hand, to stop the trade; on the other, to give up an addiction that extinguishes the capacity to think of anything but its satisfaction, whatever the risks entailed.

To be sure, we have started to take in and rehabilitate over a million drug users who surrendered but the total keeps rising.

I am at a loss what else to do. Show me a solution that can outpace a problem growing faster and harder to solve until it is beyond solution but surrender and national extinction.

We have made only a small beginning in mass rehabilitation because no one before us took the first steps toward that solution – a solution possible only when the problem is still small. Past administrations did not take even a moment of reflection let alone undertake a single action toward a serious solution.

They chose the most convenient way. For them it was the best response to any threat – which is to ignore the problem and leave to the next administration the burden of addressing a threat that has grown graver and more imminent: the threat of a narco-state. That is not my way.

The success of looking away is measured by the lack of any public reaction, absent the stimulus of any meaningful government response to the existential threat.

A threat greater than one to territorial integrity; bigger than one to national sovereignty.

A threat to the capacity of its inhabitants to defend territory and independence.

A threat to the existence of a people losing their will to fight for themselves.

There is no bondage so strong as that which shackles the capacity for freedom and the instinct for self-preservation, by sapping his will to live free. What more the collective capacity to preserve and protect the nation – from the threat of drug addiction on a national scale. It happened to China 100 years ago before the chemistry of drug slavery today.

It is suggested that the problem is not as big as we, who monitor its growth, reckon it to be: now 4.8 to 5 million users; now 34 to 40% of barangays, in Metro Manila 90%; 5 narco generals, 56 local executives, 5,000 barangay captains. Ninety percent of common crimes accord- ing to court records involve drugs. If we faked or fudged the figures, tomorrow we can declare total success. But we will not fool our nation or ourselves. What benefit is it to me to keep showing numbers that belie the success of my campaign.

There is small indication that the external sources of drugs, principally China, are pulling back on production. Certainly, the elimination of local capacity has reduced production here. But over-all progress is negligible. The main sources of drugs are abroad; possibly beyond the control of the governments of the countries where production is located.

Foreign critics insist the problem is not numerically significant – not when compared percent- age-wise to larger yet also smaller populations. But they cannot demonstrate how they arrived at these self-contradicting conclusions.

It is proposed that we spend our time arguing on the best methodology for establishing, with more certainty, the extent of the drug problem instead of stopping its continuing spread. I cannot nor can our country afford the pleasures of that intellectual pursuit. I leave that to so-called experts who are distant from and unconcerned about a problem that threatens a nation not their own. If it is their way to address a real problem by unceasing analysis, I applaud their mental indefatigability. But I have a country to protect and not a doctorate to finish. I must act on the information that is there.

I remain open to equally swift and realistic alternatives to the route I have taken – softer than that demanded by the extremity of the situation: a step-by-step, door-to- door, street-by-street address of the drug problem.

I cannot stop under pressure of some public opinion and leave the problem bigger for the next administration to solve – for it grows in geometric progression.

A former president abroad, who failed in his anti-drug campaign, warns that I should not repeat his mistakes. I am not the who lacked the will and did not know how to do it. If I wanted advice on that score, I would ask Sean Penn who was instrumental in the capture of El Chapo.

I disdain his proposal to surrender by legalizing a nefarious trade whose aim is to destroy the fundamental capacity of its customer base to reject its commodity once addicted to it.

Do not for a moment think that legalizing evil makes it good. The effects of legalized drugs will be as destructive of human living as that is properly understood: with freedom and not in a bondage impossible to break by shackling the very capacity for free will; with reason and not madness from a craving to obscure the painful clarity that reveals the desperation of their poverty, prompting the irresistible desire to lose the ability to realize the reason for their distress; a mad- ness that makes it impossible to address the root of the flourishing drug trade: economic and social injustice. That is why I wage, on two fronts: peace among insurgent groups if they listen to reason, and war against drugs.

Tell me of a better way that works other than to go after them, with whatever resources are at hand, including a police in part contaminated by the very crime they should have eliminated.

The approach I have taken can never be explained as one based on material self-interest and personal enrichment. The greatest source of wealth today comes from engaging in, not stamping out the drug trade. I might be wrong in my approach but as God and common sense are my witnesses, I mean the best for our people. I know the road to hell is paved with good intentions. But without good intentions, we are in hell already.

Thank you. God bless our people. God protect the Philippines after we lose through drugs our will to do so. No one else will.

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