Tuesday, 14 February 2017 09:59

Manila is not Bogotá, Mr. Gaviria

CONTEXT and perspective are very important in analyzing a policy, program, plan and activities. These are important to reduce the impact of unintended consequences at the implementation level.

Last February 7, later updated online on February 8, the New York Times published an op-ed article from contributor, Cesar Gaviria, entitled “President Duterte is repeating my mistakes.” If you look at the full article, Gaviria singles out PRRD and uses key words such as “extra-judicial killings, vigilantism, killing of a South Korean businessman, rights and well-being of citizens, etc.” Gaviria, an official of Colombia’s Liberal Party, is apparently monitoring PRRD; he even knew the results of the survey on his popularity. Is he for real? A Latin American leader commenting on an Asian leader as if Manila is like Bogota?

Three takeaways were made: 1) “Throwing more soldiers and police at the drug users is not just a waste of money but also can actually make the problem worse. Locking up nonviolent offenders and drug users almost always backfires, instead strengthening organized crime. That is the message I would like to send to the world and, especially, to President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines. Trust me, I learned the hard way.” 2) “Taking a hard line against criminals is always popular for politicians. I was also seduced into taking a tough stance on drugs during my time as president. The polls suggest that Mr. Duterte’s war on drugs is equally popular. But he will find that it is unwinnable. I also discovered that the human costs were enormous. We could not win the war on drugs through killing petty criminals and addicts. We started making positive impacts only when we changed tack, designating drugs as a social problem and not a military one.” 3) “No matter what Mr. Duterte believes, there will always be drugs and drug users in the Philippines.”

What is Gaviria suggesting? “If we are going to get drugs under control, we need to have an honest conversation. The Global Commission on Drug Policy — of which I am a founding member — has supported an open, evidence-based debate on drugs since 2011.” Mr. Gaviria, that’s six years ago and what has your Global Commission done? What are the learnings? What honest conversation? Colombia exported cocaine to the United States and that is why the US intervened and launched or aided a domestic war in Colombia, right, Mr. Gaviria? You cannot hold the fort and you needed John Wayne because all institutions in Columbia were compromised, right?

Gaviria further said: “We do not believe that military hardware, repressive policing and bigger prisons are the answer. Real reductions in drug supply and demand will come through improving public health and safety, strengthening anticorruption measures — especially those that combat money laundering — and investing in sustainable development.” For your information, PRRD has launched a universal health care program and is not instituting “no Philhealth card” needed to avail of state assistance in health and hospital needs. Duterte has also banged his head on the inability of the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) to do a money trail analyses of individuals linked to the drug trade.

Gaviria likewise suggested, “we also believe that the smartest pathway to tackling drugs is decriminalizing consumption and ensuring that governments regulate certain drugs, including for medical and recreational purposes.” Decriminalize consumption of shabu? Rugby? What else would you want decriminalized? Dictate on us, please. If the Philippines should heed an expert like Gaviria, can we charge Colombia for all the unintended consequences that will result from decriminalizing?

Will Colombia give the Philippines for 14 years, $9.3 billion? Yes, Vice President Robredo, Columbia received from the United States under Plan Colombia $9.3 billion for the past 14 years. The Plan’s initial official objective, to reduce by half the amount of cocaine produced in Colombia in the first five years. Cocaine, Madame Vice President! And it failed! And Plan Columbia was the biggest US military aid program outside the Middle East, the biggest in Latin America.

Please tell us, Vice President Robredo, why should we listen to Gaviria and what should we learn from them? You were already on speed by using Gaviria’s op-ed article on February 9, why can’t you be on speed with concrete plans? Gaviria talks, among other things, for “support alternative sentencing for low-level nonviolent offenders and provide a range of treatment options for drug abusers.” Have you actually studied these, Madame Vice President? Are you ready with your concrete plans or you just want to hit the punch bag daily?

Did you know that the Colombian drug trade is estimated at $10 billion and at present accounts for 43 percent of global coca supply (as well as smaller amounts of marijuana and heroin poppy)? And the Philippine drug trade is what? Do we produce like Colombia or are we a transshipment point? Would you want air fumigation in CAR, Madame Vice President, just like what Gaviria had in Colombia?

Well, Colombia is not the Philippines and the Philippines is not Colombia. Colombia has a total area of 1,141,748 sq km while the Philippines has 300,000 sq km, with 61 percent inland waters. Colombia has a population of 49,034,411 (2017 estimate) while the Philippines has 100,981,437 (2015). The Philippines is the eighth most populous country in Asia and 12th in the world. The Philippines’ population density is at 336.60/sq km and Colombia is at 40.74/sq km. The Philippines is an archipelago with 7,641 islands and Colombia is one contiguous area. Clearly, you see differences geographically.

Economically, the Philippines’ nominal GDP (2017 estimate) was $348.593 billion with per capita at $3,280 while Colombia stands at $300.988 billion and a per capita of $6,104. A Gini coefficient of the Philippines (2012) was at .43 percent while Colombia is at .52 percent. The Gini coefficient is a measure of statistical dispersion intended to represent the income or wealth distribution of a nation’s residents, and is the most commonly used measure of inequality. A Gini coefficient of zero expresses perfect equality, where all values are the same (for example, where everyone has the same income). A Gini coefficient of 1 (or 100 percent) expresses maximal inequality among values. And the Human Development Index (2014) was .668 for the Philippines and .720 for Colombia.

Again, context and perspective are needed in dissecting Thailand’s war on illegal drugs because it is inherently a border issue, “greater than any since the communist insurgency of the 1970s and early 1980s – lies along the northern border. It consists of a mass of highly addictive methamphetamine pills, (known locally as yaba, which translates to ‘crazy medicine’) produced in Myanmar for the Thai market by the United Wa State Army (UWSA).” What was good in Thailand is they had a baseline study done: “From an early user-base among sugarcane workers and long-distance truckdrivers, Myanmar-produced methamphetamine has spread to infiltrate homes, schools, offices and factories throughout the country. The pandemic of ‘yaba’ has left in its wake a widening swathe of organized crime, official corruption, street violence and broken families. The impact among youths and students has been most severe. A September 1999 survey of 32 of Thailand’s 76 provinces, including Bangkok, found that 12.4 percent of youth in secondary and tertiary education were either using or dealing drugs and nearly 55 percent of that group were using methamphetamines.”

Thailand’s war on drugs “victory” was temporary. PM Thaksin’s campaign decimated the drug market at the local drug trafficker and street-user level, but it did not reduce cross-border trafficking or attacked the drug trade’s higher elements. Additionally, his battle against “dark influences” had been ineffective, with few arrests of note. And we know what happened to Thaksin.

Gaviria also forgot to mention in his op-ed piece the phenomenon of “balloon” or “push down, pop up” effect in the war against illegal drugs. In fact, the nature of that adversary was daunting. “Bigger than both the Cali and Medellin cartels combined, more powerful than the infamous Pablo Escobar—this was a Colombian cocaine empire with a reach so vast, and profits so great, it became known as ‘the super cartel.” What was so striking about that development was that this “super cartel” was operating with great effectiveness years after the much-ballyhooed defeat of the infamous Cali and Medellin drug trafficking operations and their immediate successors. Is Colombia better off today?

Do we have “disposable people,” Madame Vice President? Colombians have the atrocious phrase of “disposable” people (desechables) to refer to “addicts, the homeless, and the extreme poor. Sad, shocking, yet not uncommon, addicts are often found unconscious on main streets in broad daylight, and people skirt around them as if they are not there.” Are we on that level, Madame Vice President? Should we not act today or wait for that before we act? Before PRRD, shabu was dirt cheap and was being smoked openly by shared hits. Rugby? You can buy by spread and that will last you 24 hours. They hit the poor, yes, the laylayan. And we are not Colombia!

All of us know that the war on drugs is being lost on a daily basis. We need to fight it at the community level where all hands are on deck. You don’t want to help? Then you don’t care about this nation. Simply put.
Published in Commentaries