In the new year, out with the skeletons

New year new role for Congress. This most venerable of public bodies has happily taken to it’s new role as high court of sorts digging into and wanting to dig into cases from the sensational to the mundane never mind if these are the jurisdiction of proper courts whether it’s the Supreme Court or lower courts across the regions. What do the honorables hope to prove? That they’re A.T.T.Ys for nothing?

Fine. Let’s get back to the one topic – EJKs, War on Drugs, and Oplan Tokhang whatever – Congress can’t seem to extricate itself out of despite mounting legislation it’s supposed to attend to with urgency.

President Duterte’s war on drugs is not a stand-alone declaration but is linked to a global effort to address the world’s continuing illicit drug problem which according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has “significant impact on peace, security and development” and “appears to be the nexus between organized crime and terrorism.” Nor is it a one-off operation. Indeed when President Duterte tells us that he will carry on the “war” until the end of his term he is merely stating a fact in international pacts that have taken effect decades before. And, ‘EJKs’ or extrajudicial killings may seem to have exploded right in our faces only during President Duterte’s time but this is not so. If we remember in the time of former President BSA III, national dailies were already reporting “mysterious” killings by “riders in tandem”. The difference between then and now is that President Duterte explicitly made war on drugs a national policy. In the previous administration, media and the public didn’t know shit why people were randomly shot at in the streets. The public now is being kept abreast at least.

This post is not to take sides on the EJKs controversy because it is a moot point. There simply are no EJKs in war. The “EJKs” that we’re hearing about are, technically and for want of a better term, casualties of such a war. Nonetheless everyone has been duly warned and whoever has ears and heard the message and is part of that enemy ring has had plenty of time to reflect and decide- life or death? But no one among them are coming forward, no? Buti pa ang mga Communista na nagdesisyong bumaba at maging miyembro uli ng lipunan. So be it. Their decision it goes without saying carries the implicit consequence of innocent lives getting caught in the crossfire. This is like when friendly forces have to make the difficult decision to invade a country knowing that while their objective is to end an oppressive regime innocent lives will be part of casualties. But at the end of the day invading friendly forces cannot be faulted. That choice had been made for them in the first place by the enemy. It’s why we don’t want war if possible. It’s beyond hard, for all involved. And this war at home should not have been declared if our communities are free of drug lords, peddlers, backers, protectors, users; or, despite their presence if they had turned themselves in. But was there ever a drug lord who’d do that? So be it.

The objective of this post rather is to reiterate key facts and nuances of the world’s illicit drug problem in order to better understand why the administration is insistent on solving it and why it’s imperative for Congress and Philippine civil society to craft a strategic and integrated response to the problem.

The latest World Drug Report published by UNODC is for 2016 but in here I’m using the one for 2015  based on 2011-2013 data. Overall, for the period,

there has been little change in the overall global situation regarding the production, use and health consequences of illicit drugs. It is estimated that a total of 246 million people, or 1 out of 20 people between the ages of 15 and 64 years, used an illicit drug in 2013. That represents an increase of 3 million over the previous year but, because of the increase in the global population, illicit drug use has in fact remained stable. Notwithstanding national and regional variations in trends in drug use, the limited data available indicate that the use of opiates (heroin and opium) has remained stable at the global level. Mainly as a result of trends in the Americas and Europe, cocaine use has declined overall, while the use of cannabis and the non-medical use of pharmaceutical opioids have continued to rise. Trends in ATS use vary from region to region, and some subregions such as South-East Asia have reported an increase in methamphetamine use.

Flows of illicit drugs across the world

The production of cannabis resin continues to be confined to a few countries in North Africa, the Middle East and South-West Asia, whereas cannabis herb is produced inmost of the countries in the world. South America continues to account for practically all global cultivation of coca bush, and South-West Asia (Afghanistan) and South-East Asia (mainly the Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Myanmar) continue to account for the vast majority of illicit opium poppy cultivation. Although the manufacture of ATS is difficult to assess, there are reports of ATS manufacture in all regions worldwide.

global flows of methampethamine

global flows of cocaine

global flows of opiates

There is also evidence that organized criminal groups, which in the past may have limited their trafficking activities to one drug type, are diversifying. For example, groups that previously focused on heroin trafficking appear to be increasingly engaging in trafficking in cannabis resin and methamphetamine. The “dark net”, the anonymous online marketplace used for the illegal sale of a wide range of products, including drugs, is a prime example of the constantly changing situation, and it has profound implications for both law enforcement and drug trafficking.

main transit countries in illicit drug trade

The growing importance of Africa as a transit area for Afghan heroin bound for Europe and other regions has been reflected in increasing seizures of heroin reported in recent years in some African countries, particularly in East Africa. Recent seizures also suggest that it may have become more common for large shipments of Afghan heroin to be smuggled across the Indian Ocean into East and Southern Africa. Moreover, Africa continues to be used as a trans-shipment area for smuggling cocaine across the Atlantic into Europe, and Eastern Europe is emerging as a transit area and as a destination.

West Africa appears to have become an established source of the methamphetamine smuggled into East and South-East Asia via Southern Africa or Europe, with new trafficking routes linking previously unconnected regional methamphetamine markets. The established market for methamphetamine in East and South-East Asia continues to grow, while there are also indications of increasing methamphetamine use in parts of North America and Europe. In 2013, Australia, the Philippines and the Republic of Korea also reported the seizure of crystalline methamphetamine perceived to have originated in Mexico.

As opiates originating in Myanmar may be unable to meet the demand in South-East Asia, the so-called “southern route” could be increasing in importance as a conduit for smuggling Afghan heroin southwards from Afghanistan through Pakistan or the Islamic Republic of Iran. Trafficking networks using the Balkan route to smuggle Afghan heroin into Europe may be experimenting with a new route, leading through the Caucasus, and there are indications of heroin being trafficked from Iraq rather than from the Islamic Republic of Iran.

In the past few years, a growing number of NPS (new psychoactive substances) have been sold on illicit drug markets. In the United States, the annual prevalence of cannabis use among twelfth-grade students remained stable between 2011 and 2013 and declined only slightly in 2014 while synthetic cannabinoid (“spice”) use almost halved in the period 2011 to 2014. The perceived harmfulness of synthetic cannabinoids among secondary school students (twelfth grade) increased between 2012, the first year of measurement, and 2014, which may have contributed to the decline in use.

Data from a recent qualitative study suggest that use of both herbal cannabis and synthetic cannabinoids may not be uncommon. Users may choose one or the other depending on the situation, for example preferring synthetic cannabinoids when trying to avoid a positive drug test result.

For some time, the market for “ecstasy” has been on the decline in several European countries and mephedrone and other NPS may have been serving as a substitute for “ecstasy”. Despite a possible decline in the overall demand for mephedrone in the United Kingdom, high levels of use have been observed among some segments of the population. Mephedrone use appears to be particularly common in London dance clubs. Similarly, another survey of visitors to nightclubs in Rome in 2013 found that NPS were being used in addition to drugs such as cocaine.

According to EMCDDA (European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction), there has been a decline in the injecting of illicit drugs in Europe, but there have been recent reports of the injecting of NPS, particularly synthetic cathinones.325Use data for NPS at the substance level are still limited. Among the reasons for this are that there is a large number of different NPS available on the market, and some of them are sold under street names that could imply a variety of different substances. For instance, the term “spice”, often used in reference to the use of synthetic cannabinoids, does not relate to a specific substance and could instead refer to a large variety of substances.

Up to December 2014, a total of 541 NPS had been reported to the UNODC early warning advisory. In 2014, 450 substances were reported, an increase from the 430 substances reported in 2013. In 2014, synthetic cannabinoids continued to account for the majority of NPS reported (39 per cent), followed by phenethylamines (18 per cent) and synthetic cathinones (15 per cent).

Preferred mode of transport

The frequency of use of different modes of transportation used by drug traffickers has not changed a great deal over the past decade. Accounting for nearly half the reported individual seizures in the 2009-2014 period, trafficking by road and rail is the most common mode of transportation used by traffickers globally, along with trafficking by air. Trafficking by air has become more frequent, but quantities intercepted remain comparatively small.

mode of transportation of illicit drugs

The average size of drug shipments intercepted on road and rail increased substantially from 68 kg between 2006 and 2008 to 107 kg between 2009 and 2014. maritime trafficking remains the least common mode of transportation in terms of individual seizure cases, but maritime seizures tend to be comparatively very large. For example, parcel post was the most commonly detected method of drug importation at the Australian borders in 2013, yet just three maritime seizure cases accounted for 74 percent of the total weight of heroin intercepted that year in the country. This confirms that interdiction of maritime shipments has potentially the greatest impact on the total quantities of drugs smuggled, as well as on trafficking flows and the availability of illicit drugs at the global level.

Gender differences in usage

To what extent are women into drugs? They’re in it big time, but on the other hand their treatment-seeking behavior is a dismal low.

women's use of illicit drugs and treatment seeking behavior

Women encounter significant systemic, structural, social, cultural and personal barriers in accessing substance abuse treatment. At the structural level, the most significant obstacles include lack of child care and punitive attitudes to parenting and pregnant women with substance abuse problems. This makes women fear losing custody of their children or having to relinquish their children as a condition of treatment, and prevents them from seeking treatment in residential settings. Treatment programmes may also be located far from where women live and may have inflexible admission requirements and schedules that may not suit the needs of women. Moreover, women with children may still need to secure child care to participate in outpatient treatment programmes as they may not have enough money to pay for child-care costs, transportation or treatment itself. Although men may be referred for treatment by their family, an employer or the criminal justice system, treatment history among women is more associated with and triggered by other problems, such as a diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder, or sex work, and could be referred by the social services system, mental health facilities or self-initiated, rather than solely due to substance abuse. In many societies, substance use both in general and among women is heavily stigmatized and cultural norms may make it difficult for women to acknowledge such a problem or leave their homes and families to undergo treatment.

Women are twice as likely as men to use tranquillizers, but both have roughly equal levels of use of prescription opioids.

gender differences use of illicit drugs

Women’s greater use of tranquilizers may be explained by findings showing 

women with substance-use disorders tend to have a history of overresponsibility in their families of origin and have experienced more disruptions and report more interpersonal conflicts in the family than their male counterparts, particularly issues related to parenting and exposure to childhood and adult trauma. Women with substance-use disorders may come from families where one or more family members is also drug dependent and may have suffered victimization and injury. Many women identify relationship problems as a cause for their substance use. In addition, psychiatric co-morbidities, especially mood and anxiety disorders, are reported to be higher among women and these disorders typically predate the onset of substance-use problems.

PWID affected with HIV

Approximately 40 per cent of the estimated global total number of PWID (people who inject drugs) living with HIV reside in Eastern and South-Eastern Europe, mostly in the Russian Federation and Ukraine. East and South-East Asia contribute a further 20 per cent to the global total number of PWID living with HIV, although both the prevalence of injecting drug use and the prevalence of HIV among PWID are below their respective global averages. It is the large population aged 15-64 residing in this region that translates into the relatively large number of PWID living with HIV. South-West Asia, the region with the highest prevalence of HIV among PWID, contributes 12 per cent to the total global number of PWID living with HIV, with a large proportion of these residing in Pakistan. Four countries, the Russian Federation, China, Pakistan and the United States (in descending order), when combined account for nearly two thirds (63 per cent) of the total global estimated number of PWID living with HIV.

In many countries, women who inject drugs are more vulnerable to HIV infection than their male counterparts and that the prevalence of HIV is higher among women who inject drugs than among their male counterparts. The transmission of infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C and the occurrence of drug overdoses are only some of the risk factors that lead to the level of mortality among people who inject drugs being nearly 15 times higher than would normally be expected among people of comparable age and gender in the general population.

prevalence of hiv among pwid

Drug dependency treatment services

Treatment of drug dependence need to be provided through a continuum of care service and may be in the form of pharmacological, psychosocial, and social rehabilitation and after-care services. Based on the report,

there is a greater level of pharmacological and psychosocial services and interventions in Europe than in other regions, particularly Western and Central Europe, where higher levels of opioid substitution also reflect the fact that opioids are the major substance for which drug users receive treatment in the region. In other regions, Governments may not yet be ready to address drug dependence with pharmacologically-assisted treatment, leading to limited coverage of such programmes.

global extent drug dependency pharmacological treatment services

global drug dependency psychosocial treatment services

In Africa, the fact that counselling is more available than other types of intervention could be due to cannabis being the most common substance for which drug users receive treatment. However, most drug treatment services in the region are provided in specialized psychiatric hospitals, which may explain why there is a considerable number of interventions in the treatment of psychiatric comorbidities in Africa, although the lack of other types of intervention in Africa may also indicate limited responses to treatment needs in general.

global drug dependency socialrehab aftercare treatment services

Not only are available services for the treatment of drug use disorders and dependence limited in most countries, there is an overall lack of provision of a continuum of care in interventions to address drug use disorders and drug dependence adequately among those in need of these interventions.

Countries who reported having alternative development strategies in place

countries with alternative development 2010-2013

Alternative development is one of the three pillars (the other two being, crop eradication and interdiction ie. law enforcement measures) in the international community’s “balanced approach” toward drug control which has been a key supply reduction strategy for several decades. Emerging in the late 1980s from the more narrowly focused crop substitution initiatives of the 1970s and the integrated rural development approach of the 1980s, the concept of alternative development has been implemented around the world for over 40 years. Alternative development is not generally an objective in itself but rather a means to an end: it is aimed at contributing to an enabling environment for longterm rural development without illicit crop cultivation.

impact of alternative development on illicit drug trade

(The UN) General Assembly defined alternative development as a “process to prevent and eliminate the illicit cultivation of plants containing narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances through specifically designed rural development measures in the context of sustained national growth and sustainable development efforts in countries taking action against drugs, recognizing the particular sociocultural characteristics of the target communities and groups, within the framework of a comprehensive and permanent solution to the problem of illicit drugs”. While this definition is used at the international level, different definitions reflecting new strategies and approaches toward alternative development have been developed by a wide variety of implementing countries, donors and practitioners. Alternative development is a concept in constant flux.
Alternative development is sometimes described as “conventional rural development applied to a drug-producing area”, “development in a drugs environment” or “development-oriented drug control”. This does not mean that the purpose of alternative development is limited to purely counter-narcotics objectives. National strategies may vary, but the specific purpose of alternative development in its present, broader meaning is to contribute to economic development (especially in rural areas) in order to target the underlying factors and root causes of illicit drug economies.

To better frame the drug problem thus design a responsive preventive strategy and interventions, we need to know and understand the factors that increase a person’s vulnerability to drug use:

factors increasing vulnerability to drug use

There is no single cause of drug use and addiction. Vulnerability to drug use is due to a variety of factors, whether stemming from the individual or from developmental contexts. The interplay between these factors ultimately either increases or attenuates an individual’s vulnerability to substance use. This is why there is no “silver bullet” remedy for prevention, although multi-causality also offers many starting points for preventive activity (that could take place in various) settings significant to the target group — family, school, workplace, community, media and leisure settings.
Groups with a higher risk, such as children with a substance dependent parent, should be approached in a different manner to population groups in which the majority does not tend to use psychoactive substances, such as school pupils. Prevention programming takes this into account by providing strategies for the population at large (universal prevention), for groups that are particularly at risk (selective prevention) and for individuals that are particularly at risk (indicated prevention, which also includes individuals that might have started experimenting and are therefore at particular risk of progressing to disorders).

The developmental notion of drug use behaviour implies that prevention should incorporate not only drug-specific components, but also skills that help individuals to deal effectively with the challenges of each phase of life, such as relationship skills for adolescents or parenting skills for parents. In fact, drug prevention is aimed at supporting the safe and healthy development of children and youth, but may also include, when relevant, additional aspects specifically related to drugs around the age of drug use

(A) broader strategy of “alternative development” (was) developed at the international level by UNFDAC in the second half of the 1980s, which sought to improve the integration of regional development assistance with law enforcement initiatives, while promoting the appropriate coordination and sequencing of those interventions. Flexible law enforcement in countering illicit cultivation — with law enforcement interventions being carefully timed in order to be supportive of the development effort, and undertaken once the basic conditions for acceptable alternative living standards had been achieved — was considered to be an integral and fundamental part of alternative development. Alternative development interventions sought to have a more sustainable impact by creating local organizations and farmers’ associations to facilitate the production, distribution and marketing of products.

The 2006 Afghan National Drug Control Strategy made a specific reference to alternative livelihoods as the main approach to addressing illicit cultivation. Meanwhile, other strategies, such as the approaches adopted by the European Union, Colombia and Peru, continue to use the concept of alternative development to address underlying drivers of illicit cultivation (for example, marginalization and poverty) in a way that is very similar to the alternative livelihoods approach.

Alternative development continues to be relevant as long as drug crops are grown illicitly and development and security challenges that are specific to areas where drugs are cultivated remain. However, it offers no quick-fix solution to the supply side of the illicit drug economy as a stand-alone strategy. Previous evaluations of alternative development have already shown that success is very situation specific and that there are few, if any, practices that can be plugged into a template. As was noted in the Report of the International Narcotics Control Board for 2005, “there is no manual or definitive guidelines for alternative development”. However, with the adoption of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Alternative Development, a set of general guidelines that contain good practices for planning and implementing alternative development now exist.

Donor contributions to alternative development

Over the past four decades, alternative development has largely been funded by external donors, including countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in North America, Europe and Oceania, and non-OECD countries such as China, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Saudi Arabia and Thailand. In recent years, there has been a trend towards more project funding by countries that were traditionally recipients of such assistance, such as Bolivia (Plurinational State of), Colombia, Peru and Thailand.

international assistance to alternative development

According to the OECD International Development Statistics, in the period from 1998, when the Political Declaration and its associated Action Plan on International Cooperation on the Eradication of Illicit Drug Crops and on Alternative Development were adopted by the General Assembly, to 2013, global commitments by OECD countries for providing alternative development in developing countries amounted in total to, on average, $219 million per year (as expressed in 2012 dollars), of which 89 percent was for agriculture-related alternative development and 11 per cent was for non-agriculture related alternative development activities such as income opportunities in other sectors, social and physical infrastructure and nonagricultural training and capacity-building.

And we thought our greatest problem were the numerous shoes of Imelda Marcos! But I do understand the need for our 70 year-old President to belt it out on the karaoke sometimes. Ma-buang ka talaga just trying tonvisualize the global transit points in the illicit drug trade.

But, seriously, Congress need to discuss the drug problem as it is happening and evolving in this country, and understanding that, craft a national drug control/management strategy. National and local governments should develop financing strategies to generate funds for it’s implementation. These strategies should align with current national strategies on urban development, housing, employment (eg. OFW support, counselling services), poverty alleviation (eg. 4Ps, agricultural development), and yes, early childhood care and development as well as adolescent and youth development and parenting education.

See, when the President told his critics in the Church to shut up and instead help him solve the problem he really means it. Drug abuse is a developmental issue and the Church with it’s Basic Ecclessial Communities (BEC) strategy and capacity to counsel, provide spiritual refuge, etc. has a big role to play in prevention. Ironically, it’s media and people around the President who don’t get the point of his remarks. They go away from press conferences to coin terminologies such as EJKs and Tokhang which are redactions of the real problem and then sell these to the public as “the truth and nothing but the truth”. Media has not been part of the solution.

Of course, those who know better could always take the road favored by the lazy which is what Congress is doing now: suspects are cornered, media are called in, and when cameras start to roll, they yak at the suspects making sure to throw in humungous terminologies the (illiterate) suspects believed were names of past honorables, all on cue for the camera, until it’s time to call it a day, a week, a month, a year. At the close of the year, SALNs will read PHP12M or so richer. Goodness! Are these actors paid per show? Out in the real world, citizens, in offices, factories, schools, stores, farms, etc., are at their jobs 12 hours a day every day in order to remit taxes to their government. Meanwhile, the problem is still out there waiting for it’s next victim. Everybody’s so good at staying within the scope of their roles that this thing goes like clockwork, a script rehashed year after year, one decade after another.

It’s the lack of and resistance to discipline

​Conspiracy theories around human rights violations, Martial Law, and misuse of the death penalty if enacted belie a deeper issue among Filipinos which is the lack of self-discipline and true regard for neighbor (we’re losing these positive traditional values).

Just look at the rivers, especially in urban areas where you’d think people being more knowledgeable and cultured will have the cleanest water bodies, the waters have been choked to death with household and industrial waste (and then they cry in the movie house over some imagined fate of imaginary Avatars?). Pati ba naman kasi yung kaliit-liit na candy wrapper hindi pa maitapon sa tamang lalagyan? Must the State tell hands to not throw out garbage and dicks not to urinate in public places? Should we wait for the highest person in the land, the President, to tell us to store away for good that nuisance wang wang? It must’ve shocked the former President how his mere reiteration of a standard rule in vehicular use gained him massive yehey! from Filipinos. What did I say? Why am I suddenly a hit? What’s going on? A presidency buoyed up by an anti-wang wang policy! If for anything, that gave him an important insight into the psyche of Filipinos.

Look everywhere. It is the daily experience of the average Filipino. Here and there, the vandalization of common spaces by failure of local governments to implement their own strategies and codes such as zoning, and willful disobedience of basic dos and dont’s when occupying public places.

We can’t observe lines (in places outside of Makati City CBD). We stop PUVs in the middle of the road and are dropped off in the middle of the road. We talk at the top of our lungs in places where quiet is the rule. We dress like we were going for a swim inside sacred places. We drive through red lights and zebra lines (which is why despite technology we still have warm bodies on the road directing traffic even under strong sunlight). We spit phlegm everywhere. We park wherever we want to. We cut down trees planted in public grounds. And when we are caught and shown the NO SPITTING, NO URINATING, NO SPEEDING/REDUCE SPEED, CHILDREN CROSSING, NO PARALLEL/PARKING, NO CUTTING OF TREES, OBSERVE PROPER DRESS CODE signs and the like, we make a scene, we cry foul, we insist that we have been deprived of our human rights, that government is acting with impunity, we make joke of it. When that’s not enough, we flash IDs of relatives in government (which is nothing more than threatening the same authorities in government). And we haven’t mentioned our other duties yet, like filing and paying taxes. The funny part is, we transform into sheep when in foreign countries. There, we follow the laws to the last letter. What do governments have there that we haven’t got here?

Now, this State business of going after crooks and the proposed death penalty- they put the fear in people. Good. For the longest time, wala na tayong kinakatakutan, we turned up our noses at our most basic of laws, because anyway this government, ay, good for nothing so might as well do our own thing. We the people are that government in case we’ve forgotten. See this? We have no respect for self, others, or our public institutions. 

If we can’t be trusted to do the good or right thing even when no one is watching, as simple as not urinating in public places, we force the hand of the State to exert greater authority on us even down to our private parts. What if the State turns a blind eye to such bullheadedness? The whole place will stink. And nobody wants that to happen.

For every human right there is a corresponding responsibility on the part of the rights holder. One cannot claim it with impunity. When claiming the right to free speech and expression, there is the corresponding duty to not be a nuisance to others or impinge on the right of others to privacy. Karaoke singing on speakers that penetrate bedroom walls at bedtime, or partying on frontyards until partygoers are drunk which by that time howl more wolfishly than the actual animals- this is tyranny not freedom. In the same vein, when barangay, municipal, or city officials do not or will not do their duties to maintain peace and order on the ground, the national is forced to step in. But even when the national intervenes to save localities, we’re seeing a wrecked version of goverment. Where are the first responders and what are they doing?

So how does one tame and coax a bull? Shoving a lamb inside the ring does not do it for sure. Ask Pacquiao. And Martial Law? Has Davao ever been put under Martial Law in the years that the President was it’s mayor?

The people get the government that they not only actually but importantly feel themselves to deserve, one which simultaneously flatters and humiliates them, and in ways that allow them to hide and lose themselves in the process.

In defense of democracy

Democracy cannot coexist alongside communism in the same country. This is why we had Martial Law and during that period”political prisoners” whose ideology if allowed free rein is like the innocent looking apple partaken by the first man and woman who thought, what’s the worst that could happen to us? Loss of innocence as it was- minds are awakened to possibilities other than what is the established good and to knowledge besides the truth.

black ink spreading in glass of water

Democracy has to be defended, and in order to do that citizens need to know and understand that free speech in the context of democracy doesn’t include the freedom to threaten democracy with seditious passions; that freedoms come with (great) responsibilities; that free speech is really responsible speech. Citizens need to discern between truly democratic movements and those that peddle democracy as something people can achieve just by holding placards, chanting and dancing on the streets, or hosting gigs for peace- one off far in between deals basically. 

The truth is, democracy is hard to do. Dieting and maintaining a great bod come to mind- you have to commit and be committed to hit the gym (or, jog) everyday at 6 AM. You have to sweat it. You have to cook and eat healthy. It asks for a lifestyle change. An everyday commitment to routine, discipline, self motivation, getting up, to not giving up. Why go through all that hardship? Because it’s all worth it.

The images of communists, with their raised fists even after long years in prison, and the mileage that media continue to give them, allocating to them their front pages, dishonor the Republic. The Philippines is not a Communist country so why should it be happy to see these images? Moreover they say they are fighting for “the people”, but why do they say this? The people don’t recognize them.

After release of their top leaders it’s inevitable that they now demand release of all their comrades. But what will the country gain in exchange? A sincere stop to all killings done in the name of ideology? to extortion? to destabilization plots? to psychological hostaging of rural communities? a public apology to the Filipino nation? What if they defaulted? The Republic is right to set the terms and not the other way around ie. them demanding from the Republic. And the nation is entitled to know.

The case of Mandela’s South Africa is different from our struggle with communism. Apartheid is clearly oppression of the natives by foreign-imposed decisions based on outsider-perspectives of good and bad for that country. Mandela’s opposition to that dysfunctional established order is justified. In our case, and I reiterate, the Philippines is already a democracy, though far from ideal but still a democracy, and the State will defend democracy from those who want to establish an altogether different order.

Moving onward to relevance

Communism was ideologically an economics-based movement whose objective was creation of a classless society of abundance…Why did it fail? In the most general terms, it failed because it opposed two strong human impulses: to be free (in expressing opinions and doing what one likes) and to own property… It increasingly failed to provide economic advancement largely because the nature of technological progress changed: from large centralized network industries to much more decentralized innovations. Communism could not innovate in practically anything that required for success acquiescence of consumers. It thus provided tanks but no ball-point pens, spacecraft but no toilet paper… Will it come back? We cannot tell it for sure, but today the chances of a comeback of non-private property and centralized coordination of economic activity seem nil. Capitalism, defined as private property of capital, wage labor and decentralized coordination, is for the first time in human history the only economic system that exists across the globe. It could be monopoly capitalism, state capitalism or competitive capitalism, but the principles of private ownerships are as accepted in China as in the United States.

The above is from Branko Milanovic’ blog post A Secular Religion That Lasted One Century that I first read through Duncan Green’s article here at WordPress. It was written in the wake of Fidel Castro’s death.

Similarly, the Business Mirror two days ago ran a news article, Duterte’s Anti-US Rhetoric Not Enough For Communist Rebels in which, quoting the group’s regional commander and spokesperson, it said

The guerrillas would not simply surrender their firearms unless their major demands are not met, including social and economic reforms, land reform and an industrialization program that favor the poor, who make up about a fourth of more than 100 million Filipinos.

But that’s exactly the problem. Who was it who said words without action is self indulgence? Because that’s what their fight has been, to a large extent. Tanks but no ballpoint pens, spacecraft but no toilet paper.

Didn’t we like to see the communists teach farmers innovative farming practices or assist in generating stock, storing, and promoting native seeds and varieties, on top of conducting literacy classes for farmers and their families as well as teach young people how to grow our own food? I would’ve liked to see them lobby local governments to help broker more equitable land lease arrangements between owners and tenants. I would’ve liked to see them influence local governments to put resources where it’s needed the most. I would’ve liked to see them lead in the preservation and protection of the natural environment which they know intimately, it being their “homes”. I would’ve liked them to put up models of people-managed enterprises that rural folks can start with. One can’t just sit back in the mountains and harp demands from the population. Do the thing one is demanding for. Show that it can be done. Or at least try.

There are those in Congress elected from party lists affiliated with communism. But for me their voices have not rung out loud often and enough for the poor and marginalized. They have become mainstreamed into a congress preferring sensationalized (hence high visibility) shortsighted stop-gap measures. The first day that Ronnie Dayan was presented in Congress was also the day the policy on the first 1000 days of child nutrition (there are many Filipino children still who are stunted and undernourished) was scheduled to be heard. A former colleague attended. The discussion was however derailed because some of the policymakers assigned to the committee went to listen to the other side- to get a glimpse of Ronnie Dayan (how gorgeous was he to catch a formidable Senator’s attention?) and eavesdrop on what they could of the alleged affair! Child nutrition is not as sexy and intriguing, apparently.

A classless society. It cannot be attained at least in this world. But we can narrow the gap. Arms, killings, fanaticism, terrorism, extremism, shortsightedness won’t do it. Globalization and technology are this century’s more relevant and powerful tools. But in order that these will benefit the masa, education first. In this, we have much catching up to do. It’s the 21st century, still huge swathes of our citizens – voters – remain illiterate hence easily swayed by opportunists, propagandists, and smooth talkers.

Party values and principles

This year’s elections in the US helped shed light on this “real face” of America.

US presidential election results by county 1952-2016

Most Filipinos here equate America with liberty as in, say, libertine characters of Sex and the City. Far from it. The “land of the free” is what results from the orderly dynamic between these two: Liberal values of the Democrats are reined in by the conservatism of the Republicans.

Comparison Democrat v Republican

In the Philippines, if you ask a voter what his or her Party affiliation is the response is a blank stare. Voting is based on personalities regardless of Party. There are hundreds and hundreds of Parties as there are personalities, which is comical. Voters have yet to mature in their politics.

On the barangay elections

The barangay LGU has proved itself an unnecessary layer (hence costs!) to the government hierarchy. If it had been effective, barangays are by now vibrant places showcasing democratic ideals of bottom up governance. But no this has not happened.

Continued incapacity of this layer to lead and manage within the framework of decentralization and institutional change in general has it’s roots in the minimum requirements set by national government for candidate officials. Current requirements invite rather than filter out undesirable qualities.

Soon we’ll now have a new urban agenda, what level of leadership and management can we expect from elementary graduates?

Cities and human settlements that:

1. Fulfill their social function, including the social function of land, ensuring the full and progressive realization of the right to adequate housing as well as equal access for all to public goods and services, food security and nutrition, quality and accessible public spaces, livelihoods and decent work;
2. Are participatory and engender a sense of belonging and ownership among all their inhabitants, practice civic engagement and prioritize the collectively defined public interest, enhance social interactions and political participation, promote sociocultural expressions, embrace diversity, and foster social cohesion and safety, while meeting the needs of all inhabitants;
3. Empower all women and girls, especially through their full and equal participation in decisionmaking, equal employment opportunities and pay, and preventing and significantly reducing all forms of violence in private and public spaces;
4. Meet the challenges and opportunities for future growth, enhancing urban economies with high productivity and value added activities, harnessing productive local economies, including the formal and informal sectors, while promoting gender responsive planning and investment for safe and sustainable urban mobility systems that link people, places, services and economic opportunities;
5. Fulfill their territorial functions beyond the administrative boundaries, and act as hubs and drivers for balanced sustainable and integrated territorial development;
6. Promote disaster risk reduction and habitats that are resilient to natural and manmade hazards as well as protect, respect and value their ecosystems, natural habitats and biodiversity, and reduce their environmental impact.

And what to do when the only development activities proposed and approved in the barangay budget are construction of basketball courts and holding of basketball tournaments? Or, when the youth i.e. SK officials are utilized as errand boys and girls in barangay halls?

One would argue that those with the know how ought to teach those without or with less, sure, but then why have a government (accountable to the people) in the first place? Even if we say let’s be more tolerable of others’ “faults” considering that if circumstances were reversed i.e. they were me and I them I’d be spitting out the same nonsense, sure, we’ve been doing that, but tolerance cannot suppress time. Between now and tomorrow, things will happen and on current realities, badly.

I remember the movie Prayers for Bobby. A true story about the layers of victimization in the 70s: Bobby finally tells his family he’s gay. His mother believes it is the infliction of the devil. She prays over him every night. She tells Bobby to also do so. As we now know being gay is not the devil’s infliction nor can it be prayed away. When Bobby visits her at her office, she pretends she’s not his. Lonely and desperate, Bobby, 20 at the time, committed suicide. The mother was shocked but it was the pain from loss which led to her transformation. She realized she was as much a victim of the rigid beliefs and narrow teachings of her time as her son was of hers. She became an iconic activist for gay rights, enjoining parents to understand and accept their children’s homosexuality.

The lesson inferred there is why wait for people to die, habitats to disappear, mountains to collapse, nothing good left for our children and children’s children to inherit before we finally do something about governance? This is the 21st century when so much knowledge and technology are out there for our taking.

What therefore is that effective structural arrangement at this level? Lessons pointing to this should have manifested decades after decentralization was first implemenented, and Congress should’ve discussed these long before this year’s barangay and SK elections. It has not as it is. Some weeks ago, Comelec reared it’s head into the picture to recommend for postponement of barangay elections “because of election fatigue” to which members of Congress opined it would indeed be a “practical” move.

How is a citizen’s exercise of her right to elect the people who will ruin her life or not constitute election fatigue? For Comelec to say this, shame really! And how is extending the term of the current roster of barangay officials, the majority of whom have failed to deliver, practical? You’d think if BLGUs are hopeless Congress at least will put sanity back by having interim structures in place while it mulls over the fate of barangay governance, but nothing.

On young people’s lips these days is this gayspeak- pak ganern! (Rough translation: and…there it is!) The Filipino’s life is run on this easy and simple rhythm. Snap! and hallowed halls turn into bullfight rings! Snap! and the constitution’s gone! Snap! and regions are rearranged! Snap! and your property’s taken! Snap! Snap! Pak! Pak! Ganern! Ganern! Our language so’s our nation.

On traffic as the reason to grant emergency powers

New Jersey turnpike traffic
Summertime traffic, turnpike New Jersey, USA via Huffington Post

Traffic management in Metro Manila is under the metropolitan authority i.e. MMDA. The LGUs in other localities. The DOTC on the other hand sets the policies. Why would the President’s Office take over administrative tasks? Why not instead review the capacity of human resources in these agencies in order to install necessary changes?

If constitutional emergency powers is granted to the Executive for purposes of traffic management, then slash taxes by half and afterward for all LGUs and government agencies to stop doing their jobs, declare a failed State because then everything will be done by the President’s men.

But how has traffic gotten into the picture when Congress has yet to expressly provide the Executive emergency powers on the war on drugs? Also why not for the resolution of issues emanating from Mindanao – terrorism (what do you call kidnappings and beheadings of civilians but not that?), land ownership, IPs, self governance – that clearly has had nationwide impact?

Finally, what’s the national policy that would provide credence for granting such powers? It cannot be traffic. Congress since it’s opening and following constitutional separation of powers has not shown independence of thought regarding national concerns. It’s approach is still the old way.

On congressional hearings of matters of court Part 2

Change vs to change

The Senate in it’s hearing of EJKs is once again lawmaker, litigator, and judge at the same time (and they’re the ones proposing federalism?). But is it aware that it’s asking the cops about the law it has (or not) drawn up and approved? Is it aware that it’s accusing the cops something – EJK – that it hasn’t itself as a body defined in the context of ‘war’? If I were General Bato, I would negotiate for the right to make a speech before anything else in order to put things in proper perspective, also for the benefit of the public, and this would basically go- Look, I’m just a cop. I have a boss. I answer to my boss. You’re the lawmakers. You tell me.

To drill a foot soldier why he’s on the ground obeying orders from above! The world hasn’t yet heard of it until this. Such indiscriminate and unintelligent handling of a concern of national import shows itself as without credibility, the nation’s laughingstock once again. This is the reason the Executive (past and present) sneaks, for want of a better word, things past it.

Think of a 17 year old who stays out past his curfew of 7 PM. He tried negotiating with his folks for a more relevant schedule but they’re adamant. This puts him in a quandary. He also can’t not have a life. He decides to stay out until 10 PM. What’s happening here? It’s the curfew. If and when those in authority are closed off, don’t or refuse to see sense or reason, people will take things into their own hands. In the creative industry, this is a positive thing. And they’re called start ups.

It’s the Filipino people, not individual Senators, who should be asking the questions. It’s Congress, not the cops, who should be providing the nation with answers. If Congress followed due process at all, it would be the first to know that so called EJKs is a natural byproduct of the war against drugs which it has sanctioned in the first place through deliberation of the proposal sent in from the Executive following his campaign promise. In the absence of news to the public of the result of such a deliberation, Congress’ seal of approval apparently was given in the form of it’s continued silence since the start of the campaign. Well, up until De Lima who suddenly remembered that EJK part and now wants to talk. Then comes in Cayetano who clarified the definition of ‘extrajudicial’ to which everybody’s oh-ah-ing. Hello 17th Congress of the Philippines? Please get your act together.

In another venue, at the CHR, Gascon rallied that “it’s important to address these killings because this will be part of our universal periodic review happening next year.” Back in Congress, De Lima intoned a similar one: “if there is a basis for fear that we might be courting the intervention of the International Criminal Court?” So now we’re calling Auntie ICC and Godfather UNCHR to define and solve our problems and pin on us some stars? For reminders, there’s no China involved here it’s just us. If we can’t solve our own problems shame on us.

But what irritates the people most is for those they’ve elected to think them idiots as to actually stage plays such as this on national scale (replay-able by anyone in the world with Net access). The Filipino people have always seen past through the bullshit.

This Congress needs to get back on it’s prayers and promises it made on it’s opening ceremonials. It must stop encroaching on the Judiciary and start doing it’s job- draw up policy priorities and there’s quite a list already: taxes, oligarchy, power and energy, local elections, welfare and social protection, urbanization, alignment/reconciliation of conflicting laws, review and update of old laws, etc.

Of healthy food and protecting children

An unexpected visit from partners in the child protection network, who arrived late in the afternoon, turned out surprisingly well due in large to the visiting Director’s facilitation of what became a sharing of field experiences of child protection events and lessons. This is the sort of effective government-civil society informal conversations that are rarely reported in the news.  Things go bad, and get highlighted, only when politicized.

The talk began on a personal note, of individuals known to both sides. We learned that a few have recently passed away.  The causes:  cancer and heart attack. Somebody mentioned a news item that went viral in social media, of a boy who ate so much chicken his favorite food that breast-like lumps grew on his chest. This segued into the importance of taking care of one’s health and the difficulties of doing so, in which food and lifestyle were lengthily discussed. We agreed that in the end it is about returning to the basic: slow food, organically grown/pesticide-free, unprocessed as what our grandparents’ generation and those before them ate and cooked. Somebody mentioned that growing one’s own food in the cities presents a huge challenge. The response was, it is possible to do it in the province although this may have to be postponed later in life, upon retirement. Suddenly becoming aware of the food on the table we laughed that we had in fact just taken out and eaten processed food. At this point, the Director moved the conversation onto child protection, saying “and that, my friends, is also child protection- securing children’s futures by taking care of their health today”.

We talked about the phenomenon in the provinces which is the increasing incidence of sexual abuse and violence against children, often girls, by their own fathers and immediate family members including siblings as young as grade school-aged. And it is sadly the case that abuse and violence are high among families wherein the mother is absent/abroad as an OFW.  Somebody shared about a four year old, now provided care in a center, who after having been raped developed a habit of exploring her private part until it bled. To this somebody echoed the young girl’s question to Pope Francis during his recent visit in the country: why is this happening? The reply from us around the table was, media?

In the provinces, as oft-mentioned in my earlier posts, families are very much updated on the tele-seryes (TV mini-series) despite the lack of electricity and limited choice in TV channels (usually, only two: Kapamilya/ABSCBN or Kapuso/GMA 7) to the point of bringing the characters into life, in their speech, affectations, dress. Very young children curse freely and talk like street-smart thugs.

For school-going girls, incidences of violence often happened during the walk to and from school. I’ve seen these roads. The longest could take an hour and a half for young legs to traverse. Moreover, much of the way is bereft of houses, on either side are tall grass or corn field, and a river farther down, possibly a good location for a horror movie where the soon-to-be-victim who’s trying to outrun the killer repeatedly shouts for help but nobody’s in sight or within hearing.

In incest, many of the mothers have taken the side of their husbands to the extent that they allowed the event to continue by turning blind eye or leading the child to believe nothing untoward is being done to her. Many of the cases were also committed by grandfathers (as old as 80) who were baby-sitting while the parents were at work, in town or abroad. To lighten the mood, the joke made was let it be a lesson that senior citizens, whose loss of memory or dementia may have gone undetected, should not anymore be asked to provide fulltime and unsupervised care to their grandchildren besides they’re through with that with their own therefore let’s allow them to retire in peace.

Child protection concerns are sobering. The subject forces one to reflect deeply and honestly on human vulnerability, limitation, and failing, starting with one’s own because who was it who said it is in understanding one’s self that one will understand another’s capacity for inhuman actions? As well, therein lies the answer to the question, ‘why does evil happen?’  But beyond understanding, there is the imperative to respond to survivors and positively repair the effects of actions against them.

The notion has been that child protection is a “new thing”, “donor-initiated”,  and a “Western influence” but, on the contrary, and using communities’ own biblical framework, “thou shalt not kill”, meant not only in the physical sense I believe, has always been the new order of things.  With increasing awareness of child protection in the provinces brought about by improved government-civil society collaboration, communities are coming forward to report abuse and violence.

Building youth agency

During a break, a colleague and I fell into discussing key findings of a commissioned baseline study we were reviewing, particularly that on young locals’ very low score in confidently expressing their thoughts whether in school, at home, or in their villages.  There is an indicator that appears to refer solely to the target of intervention (young people) but in fact embraces young people’s physical, economic, social, political, and cultural environments, and ultimately, the resulting product from the interaction of these with any young person’s make up (personality, physical and physiological attributes), a wicked problem therefore.

This brings up the concern within the monitoring and evaluation community for causality and attribution, seeing that accountability for taming wicked problems does not solely rest on one agency or group or nation for that matter.   Thus the imperative to work with others, allocate tasks and resources, and measure and report on individual responsibility vis-a-vis achievement, in effect build community ownership for the constitutional interest on Filipino youth and their role in nation building.

I’d like to add government’s leadership role in this, which is to provide a clear, consistent, and unifying policy for building youth agency, de-politicize public youth programs (how are young people expected to be nation builders if politicians tell young people to shut down their brains and merely parrot what they say?), and to consolidate and make available to the public coherent data and information that show national and local progress of the undertaking.  Who should these government agencies be?  I’m thinking, apart from the LGUs, the National Economic and Development Authority and the National Youth Commission.