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Dela Rosa pushes for decriminalization of illegal drug use

Senator Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa on Thursday said he wants to decriminalize the use of illegal drugs to decongest jails and address drug addiction as a health issue instead of a law enforcement matter.

Dela Rosa, who chairs the Senate public order and dangerous drugs committee, made the statement when asked about the suggestion of Senator Robin Padilla during a Senate panel hearing recently.

“I am the author of the bill. Ako mismo ang gumawa, nag-author niyan at gusto ko talaga (I am the one who authored that bill and I really want that)…” he said in an interview on GMA News’ Unang Balita.

He, however, clarified that drug pushing, manufacturing, and trafficking is not included in his bill.

"User lang. Iba 'yung pushing, manufacturing, trafficking (It's only for the users. drug pushing, manufacturing, trafficking is a different matter)," he said.

Dela Rosa, a former Philippine National Police chief, said this move will decongest prisons as drug users will only be admitted at rehabilitation centers.

“So in order to decongest itong mga kulungan, sabi natin i-decriminalize na lang ‘yan dahil ‘yun namang mga rehabilitation centers natin ay hindi napupuno,” he said.

(In order to decongest the jails, I said let’s decriminalize the use of illegal drugs because our rehabilitation centers are not yet fully occupied.)

He noted that the occupancy rate at the drug rehabilitation centers is only at 50%, adding that the Mega Drug Abuse Treatment and Rehabilitation Center in Nueva Ecija was even used as a COVID-19 facility due to lack of patients.

"Medyo maluwag ang drug rehab centers, ang occupancy is 50% lang. 'Yung malaki nga natin sa Nueva Ecija napakababa ng occupancy rate, ginawa na ngang COVID facility," he said.

He added he considers drug addiction is “not more of a law enforcement problem but more of a health problem.”

Dela Rosa said he suspended the hearing on the matter following the strong opposition from law enforcement agencies.

He said the Philippine National Police, Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, Dangerous Drugs Board, and National Bureau of Investigation were pointing out that it may send a wrong signal to the youth that using illegal drugs is okay.

“Yung hearing na ‘yun sinuspend ko muna. Mag-hearing tayo uli dahil mabigat na talakayan ang kailangan dito para we will come up with a very good piece of legislation. Hindi ‘yung mamadaliin natin. Pag-usapan nating mabuti ito,” he said.

(I suspended the hearing for the meantime. Let’s have another hearing because thorough discussions are needed for this so we can come up with a very good piece of legislation. Don’t rush it. Let’s discuss this thoroughly.)

Senate hearing

During a Senate hearing on Tuesday, Dela Rosa floated the idea of decriminalizing the use of illegal drugs, which has yet to be discussed in the panel.

"Siguro, hindi pa kasi natin na-tackle itong batas na ito, 'yung instead of, i-decriminalize natin 'yung drug using, instead of imprisonment, automatic i-rehab sila," he said.

(Perhaps, we have yet to tackle this law, let’s decriminalize drug use, instead of imprisonment, let’s take them to rehabilitation automatically.)

This was seconded by Padilla, saying that illegal drug users might get worse if they are mixed with other criminals with more serious offenses in jails.

"Maganda po 'yung sinabi ni Mr. Chairman na maihiwalay po sila sa mga kriminal dahil sa totoo lang po offenders lang itong mga ito. Kaya sana po mangyari 'yun, Mr. Chairman,” Padilla said.

(Let’s separate drug users from criminals because they are just offenders. I hope it would happen.)

Meanwhile in a statement, human rights lawyer Chel Diokno said that while "this could be considered a belated move, we fully welcome the proposed legislation to decriminalize drug use."

"Ang adiksiyon sa droga ay health problem na, ayon sa mga eksperto, nireresolba sa rehabilitasyon at iba pang makataong paraan, at hindi sa karahasan at rehas na bakal. Maraming bansa na ang nagpatupad nito at naging epektibo," he said.

(Drug addiction is a health problem which according to experts, is resolved thru rehabilitation and other humane methods, and not through violence and jail time. Many countries have implemented this and it turned out effective.)

"Let us always remember that thousands of deaths in the past administration’s bloody drug war have not solved the problem of illegal drugs. We must continue to seek accountability for those responsible," he added. —AOL/RSJ GMA Integrated News