Death economics 101, according to Pernia


The death of 17-year-old Kian de los Santos in the hands of the police during antinarcotic operations in Caloocan City on August 16 must have somehow tweaked President Duterte’s treatment of his police in the conduct of the government’s inexorable war on drugs.

In an unreliable admission that state forces may have committed a rubout, Duterte—who had previously defended the police in the performance of his marching order to end the drug hazard—commiserated with Kian’s family, even affording his parents an audience in Malacañang and an assurance (with financial and security assistance) that justice for Kian will be served accordingly.

We may never know how Duterte’s mind processed the events after his police shot dead a schoolboy execution-style (as attested by the Public Attorney’s Office), and discarded his corpse next to a pigsty.

But Kian’s death ignited a once placid community to flock by the thousands during his funeral, turning the occasion into a rare display of outrage against the president’s widespread, yet controversial, drug war. So far, Duterte’s police have reported killing 3,500 people in antidrug operations, with thousands (many of them young and innocent) slain over drug-related crimes and in mysterious circumstances.

But one soul in the president’s economic team believes that these deaths are but a “necessary evil” that would even bring about economic prosperity. I have never expected and was not prepared to hear such myopic and skewed view from Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto M. Pernia, who claimed that Duterte’s drug war will usher in “peace and order in the country and lure investments”.

According to Pernia, “If we have peace and order, then investments, the investment climate will definitely, substantially improve and many will be rushing to the Philippines to invest.”

Unfortunately, Pernia seems way too detached from reality. The countries that the Philippines traditionally rely on for investments (except China) are averse to these killings without due process and have, in fact, voiced out their opposition to such.

He justifies the killings as self-defense on the part of the police. But how can one vet that state forces are indeed liquidating only drug suspects who put up a fight?  The Senate and even the Department of Justice (initially) found conspiracy among policemen charged in the killing of Albuera, Leyte Mayor Rolando Espinosa at a subprovincial jail in November 2016. What about the killings of Ozamiz Mayor Reynaldo Parojinog and his wife? And the scores who were waylaid in the government’s so-called oplan “One Time Big Time”? We will never know because their lips have been sealed along with their respective graves.

We do not and will never condone the proliferation of drugs and their adverse effects on our society. But we will, likewise, not keep our peace when blood spills on the streets almost on a daily basis on the pretext of a drug war, which the president himself admitted could never be won.

Jochen-Martin Gutsch and Juan Moreno of Der Spiegel, who wrote a five-part series about lessons learned from the failed war on drugs, discovered conceivable solutions to a campaign that has had “devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world.”

Helping them put out the series is Pablo Escobar’s former security chief, Jhon “Popeye” Velásquez, who facilitated Escobar’s mass production of cocaine which grabbed control of 80 percent of the global cocaine trade.

When Der Spiegel asked how people like him could be stopped, Velazquez said: “People like me can’t be stopped. It’s a war. They lose men, and we lose men. They lose their scruples, and we never had any…you will never [any government] win this war when there is so much money to be made. Never.”

But in the Philippines, drug lords like Escobar have never been the target. Those killed are mostly suspected couriers and users who, unlike drug lords, have no guns to fight back. In the eyes of those who applaud Duterte’s flawed drug war, those killed, mostly from the poor sector of society, deserve to die.

Der Spiegel notes that since US President Richard Nixon declared war on drugs on July 17, 1971, the estimated annual volume of drugs produced worldwide—about 40,000 tons of marijuana, 800 tons of cocaine and 500 tons of heroin—had remained constant, while the cost of the drug war has increased more than thirty-fold.

In an opinion piece published on February 8 and entitled “President Duterte is repeating my mistakes”, former Columbian President Cesar Augusto Gaviria Trujillo (1990 to 1994) writes: “Illegal drugs are a matter of national security, but the war against them cannot be won by armed forces and law-enforcement agencies alone.” He adds, “Using force in fighting the war does not work [it only worsened] and created a host of other problems.”

Known in Latin America as a conflict mediator, advocate of democracy, staunch supporter of regional integration and defender of human rights, Gaviria states: “Tens of thousands of people were slaughtered in our antidrug crusade. Many of our brightest politicians, judges, police officers and journalists were assassinated. At the same time, the vast funds earned by drug cartels were spent to corrupt our executive, judicial and legislative branches of government. The war on drugs is essentially a war on people.”

Duterte, however, castigated Gaviria and branded him an “idiot”. It is worthy to note here, though, that it was under Gaviria’s rule that Pablo Escobar, the founder of the Medellin cartel, was killed in a government operation in 1993.

Using the lessons from Columbia’s unsuccessful drug war, global experts are now belatedly restrategizing about how to combat the menace more humanely.

In April 2016 incumbent Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos told the United Nations that there should be a “more effective, lasting and human solution” to the problem that would address the issue at the root causes, and expand the fight beyond enforcement.”

As Gaviria explained, “We could not win the war on drugs through killing petty criminals and addicts.… We started making positive impacts only when we changed tack, designating drugs as a social problem and not a military [or the police] one.”

Pernia’s death economics could therefore be considered pure hogwash.

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