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Editorial: War against illegal drugs, year 1

Editorial Cartoon by John Gilbert Manantan

TODAY marks President Rodrigo Duterte’s full first year in office, and people traditionally use the day to assess a president’s work. That the assessment varies from person to person means the method used is different and the aspect of governance assessed is not the same. Reminds us of the poem by John Godfrey Saxe titled “Blind Men and the Elephant.”

Remember the “six men of Industan” who “went to see the elephant (though all of them were blind)”? Each of them ended up creating their own version of reality based on their limited perspectives. One thought the elephant was a wall, the other that it was a spear, still another that it was a snake and so on, depending on what part of the body a blind man happened to touch.

Anyway, allow us to consider the aspect of governance the Duterte administration mainly focused on in its first year, the fight against illegal drugs. One can actually consider it its biggest failure, mainly because the President set the bar too high, but it is also the one where it has made the biggest dent on. That’s how wide the assessment swings on the anti-drugs drive.

The President promised during the campaign for last year’s presidential elections and in the first few weeks of his presidency to fully end the illegal drugs problem in the country in three months. He would later ask for an extension of three months more and eventually ended up with six years (or his entire term). The initially aggressive drive resulted in the naming of people allegedly linked to the trade and the killing of thousands of suspected drug peddlers and users.

It is this effort that has caught the attention of local and international media and human rights groups in the country and abroad because of its bloody nature and the supposed widespread violations of human rights. To be fair, the campaign did make a dent partly on the illegal drugs trade and in a big way to the crime incidents statistics. The “shock and awe” nature of the campaign did work but only on the peripheral aspect.

A year after, it is obvious that the illegal drug traders are no longer shocked and awed by the anti-drugs campaign. Sadly, the Duterte administration seems like it is already bereft of novel ideas to rekindle the campaign’s fire.

Published in the SunStar Cebu newspaper on June 30, 2017.

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