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Anti-drugs group opposes decriminalization of illegal drug use

An anti-drugs advocacy group on Friday expressed opposition to the proposed decriminalization of illegal drug use, warning of its possible dangers to the community.

“Yang panukala na 'yan, maganda sa pandinig pero kalokohan po 'yan [The bill is good for the ears but it’s actually foolishness],” Anti-Drugs Advocate, Laban ng Pamilyang Pilipino chairperson Jonathan Morales told Dobol B TV in an interview.

Morales said psychologists or psychiatrists should take part in evaluating the proposed measure because they know the “state of mind” of drug users.

“Kapag 'yan inihalo natin sa community, delikado lalo na kapag i-decriminalize natin 'yan kung ang punto lang o layunin ay ma-decongest ang mga kulungan,” he said.

(If they mix these drug users with the community, it would be dangerous, even more so if they decriminalize the use of illegal drugs just to decongest the jails.)

He added that the government should improve jail facilities instead to address the congestion problem.

Senator Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, a former national police chief, earlier 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.

Instead of putting them in jails, Dela Rosa said drug users should only be admitted to rehabilitation centers.

However, Morales pointed out the corruption issues that hound some rehabilitation centers, as well as problems in management, administration, logistics, and monitoring in these facilities.

“Ito yung mga nagkakaroon ng lagayan sa mga center sa pagitan ng mga pasyente at mga kumukupkop sa kanila. Nakakapagbigay ng mga certification na ito'y magaling pero sa totoo lang hindi pa,” he said.

(There was bribery in the centers between the patients and the people taking care of them. Certifications were being issued that these patients are already well but in reality they are not.)

Patients who are paying receive privileges and special treatment while staying in rehabilitation centers, according to Morales.

Morales also pointed out there is only a small percentage of users who are not pushers because most of them are already selling illegal drugs so they can pay for their own supply.

In a separate interview, Dela Rosa said that once drug users are treated from addiction, there is a big chance that they will also stop selling.

“Napilitan 'yan mag-push para meron siyang panggamit [They were forced to sell drugs so they can fund their habit],” he said.

Dela Rosa, who chairs the Senate public order and dangerous drugs committee, said he will take into consideration the supposed problems in rehabilitation centers.

He said he came up with the bill on the decriminalization of drug use because he felt pity seeing prisoners packed inside congested jails. According to him, some of them were sleeping upright due to lack of space.

Dela Rosa also clarified that he did not propose the measure to appease human rights advocates.

“Hindi sa nagpapabango tayo sa human rights ha. Wala akong pakialam sa inyo diyan, mga human rights kayo. Ang akin lang bilang tao, nakikita na dapat i-rehab ito imbes na ikulong, imbes kasuhan, i-rehab ito, mas maganda siguro,” he said.

(I am not appeasing the human rights sector. I don’t care about them. It is just that I think it would be better if drug users undergo rehabilitation than putting them in jails.)

After hearing some points of opposition to the bill, Dela Rosa said he is having second thoughts on pushing for it. 

In a chance interview, Dela Rosa admitted that the proposed measure is no longer timely, saying the drug operations under the current administration had decreased.

“Nakikita ko na hindi na gaano timely. Nung kasagsagan ng ating drug war — Oplan Tokhang — punong-puno ang kulungan, ngayon hindi naman gaanong puno dahil kakaunti ang operations nila, anti-drug operations. Wala na masyadong nakukulong so hindi na masyadong timely,” Dela Rosa said when asked about statements that the proposed measures is a “belated move.”

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."

Diokno said that drug addiction is a health problem which is resolved through rehabilitation and other humane methods and not through violence and jail time.

"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. —Hana Bordey/KBK, GMA Integrated News