#HumanRights #StopTheKillings A Tale of Two Drug Addicts -by Christa Escudero
This is a tale of two drug addicts.
In an urban poor community was Joshua*. He struggled with the use of shabu when he was younger. He had long been free from drugs, as his wife Linda shared.
When the Duterte administration’s Oplan Tokhang started, Joshua surrendered to the local police for the promise of employment and rehabilitation. He worked as a construction worker and tricycle driver, and he wanted a steadier source of income. There had been no problems after that, except that the promised employment did not materialize.
Things changed one unexpected night. Only Joshua was home. Linda was washing clothes in an alley, while their three daughters were out in different places. Suddenly, Linda saw eight men on motorbikes on the way to their house.
Linda was frantic. Rina, one of their daughters, had arrived at the scene. Linda then realized what was happening — she heard one gunshot. She approached one of the men, who was in the civilian outfit, on her knees begging. “Sir, asawa ko lang ang nasabahay. Hindi po siya lalaban.”
Then she heard shouting — “Nanlaban siya! Nanlaban!” — then a rain of bullets.
It took them a week before they were able to sleep at their home again. When they came back, the first thing Linda did was clean the blood left on their floor. She found a pack of white powder in the living room. Her relatives said it was tawas — made to look like shabu.
Linda thought, “Bahay ba ‘to ng drug dealer? Wala nga kaming pera pambili ngplywood. Canvas lang ang mga bubong namin.”
In another part of the country was Miguel**. He too struggled with drug use. He sought the help of rehabilitation centers here in the country and abroad, but it only became a terrible experience for him.
“They try to help you by confronting the behavior of drug addicts… It’s a lot of, there something inherently wrong with you, you’re fucked up, you’re broken, and it’s called tough love. It may have helped some people, but not me… It didn’t teach me anything.”
That was until he found the Philippine Center for Substance Abuse Management (PCSAM).
PCSAM studied Miguel’s case and formed strategies tailored to help him reduce his drug use. They provided spaces where he could play, exercise, cook on his own, and the like. They also supported him in his personal endeavors — even making a film that was screened in the Cinemalaya Film Festival.
Most importantly, they guided him on what to do in case he relapses — with no punishment involved.
“They helped draw things out of you instead of yelling it in your face,” Miguel shared.“Whatever you wanted to fix, they helped you out. They encouraged making it realistic, but also stretching yourself.”
A week after he started treatment, he felt empowered and respected. He has since relapsed twice — from five to seven days, it became two to three — and can now go right back to work after. He has become more open to his loved ones. He can now also make decisions on his own.
To Kill or to Heal
Let us study the stories of Joshua and Miguel.
Joshua is one of the thousands who died under the Duterte administration’s war on drugs. According to #RealNumbersPH, 5,856 people have died during anti-drug operations. However, according to the Commission on Human Rights, the number could actually be as high as 27,000.
Still, despite this so-called crackdown on drugs, the number of users has continued to rise — from 1.8 million in 2016 to an estimated 7 to 8 million in 2019. Clearly, killing drug addicts has not solved the issue of drug use at all.
Miguel has resolved his drug addiction with the help of PCSAM, now NoBox Philippines. The group was founded on the philosophy of harm reduction — a set of strategies to reduce the negative health, social, and legal impacts of substance use. These strategies include medical supervision to those who use substances, peer support and community mobilization, and rights-based policy reform.
Harm reduction has been pushed as the best way to address drug addiction. A Google search of the term would result in an extensive list of organizations that advocate for it, saying that harm reduction protects the health of those who use drugs and respects their rights and dignity.
Shouldn’t it be the case, anyway?
First, drug addiction is a form of the disorder. It renders patients unable to stop using drugs and affects the way they think, feel, and act. Like many disorders, this can be prevented and resolved with proper treatment — not by killing them outright.
Second, drug addicts are human beings. All human beings have rights and dignity we should uphold. Applying authoritarian, dehumanizing measures will not encourage them to seek treatment like safe, secure, and dignified ones will.
Imagine if Joshua received the treatment Miguel got. Where would he be now? Where would be the thousands who were killed?
It is time we reimagine how to solve the country’s drug problem. It is time we give this tale a happy ending.
Story from Women and the Duterte Anti-Drug Carnage: Grieving, Healing, Breaking Through by Eleanor R. Dionisio (Ed.). Names of the people involved were changed to protect their identity. *Story from The Story of Miguel and Harm Reductionby NoBox Philippines. Names of the people involved were changed to protect their identity.
Christa Escudero is a member of DAKILA: Philippine Collective for Modern Heroism and#WeTheFuturePH, a non-partisan national movement of Filipino youth standing up for rights, freedom, and democracy.
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