Let’s face it, we all know about the “war on drugs” that President Rodrigo Duterte first waged when he assumed his position on June 30, 2016. For most people, he was a fan favorite. Many thought that this loud-mouth arrogance would translate into a no-compromise type of administration. Tales of his exploits in Davao City when he was a mayor echoed throughout the country. To a major degree, he was responsible for the city’s extreme cleanliness and discipline. Some even called it a “mini Singapore” concerning their similar level of maximal strictness. Both places had attributes of perhaps a perfectionist degree of leadership. For example, littering and smoking are both offenses that one can get arrested for in both places. The city was quiet at night. Despite all of the criticisms you can lay on the president, you can’t deny the fact that his reign as a mayor was incredibly successful. There was no noise, there were no late-night drunken brawls, and the residents had a strong sense of safety.

How could this state of peace be achieved? Why does this seem like an isolated incident? Why hasn’t this transferred over to the current government? A more controversial, but significant, factor in the development of the city can be attributed to the former mayor’s “hobby” per se. During his time as mayor, a vigilante group known as the “Davao Death Squad” was starting to be recognized. The group is alleged to have conducted summary executions of street children and individuals suspected of petty crimes and drug dealing. It has been estimated that the group is responsible for the killing or disappearance of between 1,020 and 1,040 people between 1998 and 2008. The cherry on top is that it’s widely accepted that Duterte himself was the head of the group. Even better, a few hours after his spokesperson denied that he has ever personally killed anyone, he had this to say. “I killed about three of them… I don’t know how many bullets from my gun went inside their bodies. It happened and I cannot lie about it.” He told a group of business leaders gathered there: “In Davao, I used to do it [kill] personally. Just to show to the guys [police] that if I can do it why can’t you. And I’d go around in Davao with a motorcycle, with a big bike around, and I would just patrol the streets, looking for trouble. I was really looking for a confrontation so I could kill.”

He ruled with an iron fist that simultaneously made people fear and respect him. 

The problem is, both his methodology on the drug war and the administration as a whole is fundamentally flawed. What once worked in a comparatively smaller area may not be applicable for a larger demographic. The brutalist micromanaging style he has isn’t necessarily going to work just because of previous success. You can’t just go around the country killing druggies indiscriminately. Oops, I guess that already happened. You see, why the anti-drug campaign worked in his city is because he spent more than 20 years living there building rapport with the locals and slowly built it up to its current glory. It was an arduous process that took years to accomplish. When someone shows up out of nowhere shouting that they can “‘finish’ drug within 3 to 6 months” we want to believe that delusion. But a delusion it all was. All with well-deserved scrutiny by the international bodies and locals alike. Honestly, it’s a miracle he hasn’t been impeached or impaled. 

For the most part, the Duterte administration was primarily focused on fighting the “drug war.” What is the “drug war” in the first place? “The war on drugs is a global campaign, led by the U.S. federal government, of drug prohibition, military aid, and military intervention, to reduce the illegal drug trade in the United States. The initiative includes a set of drug policies that are intended to discourage the production, distribution, and consumption of psychoactive drugs that the participating governments and the UN have made illegal. The term was popularized by the media shortly after a press conference given on June 18, 1971, by President Richard Nixon—the day after publication of a special message from President Nixon to the Congress on Drug Abuse Prevention and Control—during which he declared drug abuse “public enemy number one”. That message to Congress included text about devoting more federal resources to the “prevention of new addicts and the rehabilitation of those who are addicted, but that part did not receive the same public attention as the term ‘war on drugs’. However, two years before this, Nixon had formally declared a ‘war on drugs’ that would be directed toward eradication, interdiction, and incarceration. Today, the Drug Policy Alliance, which advocates for an end to the War on Drugs, estimates that the United States spends $51 billion annually on these initiatives.”

From a young age, we’ve always been taught that “drugs are bad” and that they’ll “kill you one day.” In extreme cases, definitely. But anything can kill you if you consume too much of it. You can over-exercise, overeat, oversleep, and even overwork yourself. Some of the most positive of human emotions can also be harmful in excess quantities. Being a kind and virtuous person is what many strive to be. But be too kind and you’ll end up a person who only wants mindless puppets to be manipulated. When you think you know the best for a person without consulting them on their take, you force your ideals and beliefs onto them. The same thing goes with love. It occurs far too often to the point where the Japanese language has a specific word for it. “‘Yandere’ are usually female, who fits the archetype of being genuinely kind, loving, or gentle, as well as obsessed with their love interest, sometimes demonstrating this through violent behavior.” Japanese literature is filled with tales of obsession that usually end in murder. If we can have things in moderation, why not drugs? 

Actual medical research has stated the positive effect of Marijuana. Cancer cures, anti-inflammatory, pain-killers, and body soaps can all be produced with Cannabis. If we keep on denying the positives of these substances and focus on the failures, we might end us stagnating our growth. If Heroin and Cocaine are used in incredibly small substances, they can be used in cough syrup. Mind you those two arguably get the most negative press about them. And yet, they can be used as cures if the dosage is correct. 

Making drugs illegal actually creates problems in itself. When the world reached a global agreement that the hunting of endangered animals is unethical and therefore banned, a hidden underground market was born. Sounds awfully familiar, doesn’t it? You have the eccentrics that trophy hunt because it became eccentric the moment it wasn’t allowed anymore. Then there are the low-level poachers that instantaneously have a high income due to the scarcity and rarity of the product. Next are the elites and collectors that want to capitalize on the high demand and low supply of a suddenly valuable resource. These black markets wouldn’t be around had they been legal in the first place. By banning an industry, you create another one. If we just accept that druggies can do their thing. As long as they don’t hurt anyone but themselves, what’s wrong with that?

Well, you do have the darker side of drugs as well. The side from which all evil originates. And that part of the world has been repeatedly been shunned and yet there are still those who are willing to brave the risks. This is the side that is willing to risk it all for a high. The main issue is that they’re highly addictive. A single hit of Heroin or Cocaine can send you fiending for more for several weeks. It’s frankly almost impossible to truly monitor people and rely on self-control to stop them from buying more and more drugs. The reason why those two drugs in particular specifically have bad press is because of the severe health risks that they pose not just to the user, but to everyone else as well. Put it this way, more people die globally from illegal substances than from homicides. If there’s one thing for sure that we can’t do anything about, is bad people doing bad things.

Sure, there may be medicinal effects to Marijuana. But there are also much much worse side effects to other drugs like anti-depressants and sleeping pills. What’s more, is that these things can be prescribed even to children. All you need is an incompetent or willfully malicious prescription, and there you go. You now have a lifelong addiction that will certifiably ruin your life and your relationships. Congrats? The whole “as long as they’re not doing anything bad to you, why should you care” argument in favor of druggies is fundamentally flawed. They affect everyone. The economy gets worse because of the taxpayer money that goes into rehabilitating them. What about the children who are repeatedly abused and molested by their substance-addicted parents. Should we not care for the welfare of others and focus solely on ourselves? 

If that’s what’s going on, then we truly live a selfish existence. This attitude is the root of our suffering. We must help ourselves by helping others, and help others by helping ourselves. Though we can’t fully rid the world of illegal substances, we can make an effort to reduce them as much as possible. So shall we?