The Philippine Drug War and the Duterte Administration’s policies have drawn so much attention from international media these past several months. As a working mother who doesn’t watch TV that much (I deliberately choose the programs I watch with what little time I can spare), I can’t really tell how people from outside the Philippines view my country’s war on drugs, but this I know – the President is doing his job the best way he knows how.
When I see him speak on TV, I don’t see a brave, candid or punitive leader ready to punish every criminal he can get his hands on. Instead, I see an angry father who’s lived long enough to know that if we don’t do something about our country’s problems on drug addiction, the next generation will either find itself scramming out of the country like it would from a sinking ship or continue existing without really living in a land of perpetual emptiness and chaos.
I can tell because I personally saw a glimpse of that future. Long before then Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte became president and declared war on drugs, my family had been battling drug addiction right at our doorstep. It was a long hard fight and I knew that if we gave in and chose the easy way out (‘easy way out’ could have included options like legal separation, RA 9262, or simply live with it until our addict gradually dies), our children would be like the 90% of those who get referred to the Guidance Counselor’s Office – broken, confused and deeply hurt. I didn’t want that kind of future, and so I fought tooth and nail to regain our freedom.
By the grace of God and with the help of a very supportive community, my husband and I won that one battle but the war continues. This time we fight alongside each other instead of against each other and I’m more confident because when there is synergy between the pillars of a family, it is difficult not to achieve victory.
Two years into our recovery, Mayor Duterte won the presidency and, as promised, led the country on a war against drugs. I happened to have been invited to join our town’s Municipal Anti-Drug Abuse Council and when we helped assess the Oplan Tokhang surrenderers, I saw an even more compelling reason for fathers like President Duterte to really get angry.
Meet Michael (not his real name). He’s 16 years old and was on the PNP’s watch list, but according to his parents he was only about 13 when a local drug syndicate took him, made him use shabu (methamphetamine) and peddle drugs. Took him? I heard about the drug cartel and human trafficking in Mexico, but that’s thousands of miles away. I could not even begin to comprehend how, in such a small town where almost everyone knows everyone else, a group of people can simply take a 13-year-old boy from his family without the police knowing about it!
So I asked the parents, who were there during the assessment, what happened. The mother was a joyful woman who peddles food for a living, but she said Michael and his older brother were her children from her first marriage. The older brother was about seven and Michael was barely two years old when their biological father left. The mother remarried at about that same year and the boys grew up with their stepfather. Unlike the older brother who can be okay alone, Michael was clingy and loved to be around his mom a lot. He thrived on touch and motherly affection and loved every single moment in the company of his mom.
Sadly, the family’s income was not sufficient so the mother decided to work as an OFW (Overseas Filipino Worker) when Michael was about seven years old. He and his brother were left in the care of their stepfather. The mother, whom I will call Marian (also not her real name), communicated with her kids via phone calls, but she never really had the chance to perform her motherly duties to them.
When Michael was around 13 years old, she began receiving reports from her husband (and probably some neighbors) that Michael is not doing very well at school and sometimes does not come home for the night. This alarmed Marian and so she returned to check on the boy.
To her horror, she came home to see a skinny adolescent who looked as if he hasn’t eaten or slept in weeks. He was definitely nowhere near that handsome, bouncy school-aged boy she left six years ago; the boy who adored his mother so much.
The boy’s physical appearance would have been enough to break a mother’s heart but what crushed Marian’s soul even more was how he could no longer have a coherent conversation with her; her baby boy had gone off his rocker.
How come he was taken? How was he taken? Marian’s husband explained he wasn’t home all the time as he worked as a truck driver. There would be nights in a week when he couldn’t come home, and the children were left alone on their own. One night he came home and couldn’t find Michael, so he went to look for him. He saw the boy in the neighborhood but when he saw him coming, Michael ran away. After a few attempts at bringing the boy back home, the stepfather gave up and called Marian.
Marian never went back to the Middle East. She took her son to a psychiatrist who prescribed medications but they could not afford the maintenance medicines, neither could they afford the regular monthly check-ups. Today, they keep the child locked up in his room with a chain around his waist to keep him from going out, breaking into people’s houses to steal money to buy drugs.
MARIAN’S STORY AND OUR PAIN AS A PEOPLE
Michael was only one of the hundreds of addicts we interviewed that day, and Marian was only one of the hundreds of mothers in our small municipality who suffer from seeing their child helpless from the clutches of addiction. I stood crying in the shower that night, hoping the water would wash away the lump of sorrow lodged in my chest and the negative energy rubbed off on me by the families whose pain I have personally gone through. People may call the Philippine Drug War a war against the poor and a crime against humanity, but what crime against humanity could be greater than poisoning innocent children with substances and make them peddle drugs as they prematurely head on to their inevitable death because they could not afford treatment?
This is one of the primary reasons President Duterte is so angry; why the Filipino people chose him to lead, and why pro-active social media personalities like Mocha Uson (@Mochablogger) and Sass Rogando Sassot (@forthemotherlandph) passionately blog about their country’s battles.
My own family’s pain might have ended but our pain as a people persists. We have so many problems as a family, as a nation, but we can definitely choose to steer clear from those that destroy the mind and prevent the person from handling with dignity his ordeals in life.
A DIFFERENT PICTURE
Looking back, I think things would have been different.
- Had Marian known her worth as a person and the enormity of her impact to the world around her simply by being a mother, would she have allowed her perceived insufficiency to make her decide to leave her family and work abroad?
- Had her husband known that fatherhood is more than just being able to earn money to sustain the family’s basic needs and that providing love and affection is not only the sole responsibility of the mother but a shared responsibility of both parents, would he have taken better care of the children?
- Had the community known that indeed, we are our brother’s keeper and that we belong to each other, would they have allowed Marian’s family to lose Michael to the ruthless drug syndicate?
- Had we understood that drug addiction is a disease that can be prevented, would we have done something to prevent it from infecting our families?
Now that we have seen the horrors of the disease first hand, what new choices would we make? In Part 2, I would share with you some insights on how drug addiction as a family disease can be prevented but meanwhile I would like to encourage you to take a step back and have different perspective.
‘War on Drugs’ may not be a nice term. In fact people who advocate the end of war on drugs think the term is counter-productive. I think so too, and so instead of calling our advocacy to prevent and treat drug addiction ‘war on drugs,’ I’d like to call it ‘Pro-Love Crusade,’ where women are at the frontline armed with nothing but their inner capacity to love fiercely and create infectious ripples of joy that heal the wounds of this world.
Together, we can make the war on drugs end and the Pro-Love Crusade begin.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. You are welcome to share them on the comments section below.