Shocking reality for drug addicts in the Philippines
Being a meth fiend and a resident of Malate, a slum area in Manila, Lilibeth Diego knows a lot about the drug war in the Philippines. She is 53 now but has been an addict since her high school days. "Been taking it every single day since 1981," Diego says. Her lack of teeth and skinny appearance tells the tale of drug abuse, though she swears she has never sold any drugs in her life.
Fear and paranoia engulfs Filipino drug addicts
After the recent "war on drugs" campaign was launched by the newly elected President Rodrigo Duterte, Diego and her husband chose to surrender. "I'm too scared to die," she said. It was an easy choice for her.
In fact, she is so paranoid and scared about the stricter laws that she just decided to sign some legal documents to ensure she's on her way out of this. She received a briefing and, without any issues, she was sent back home. If you ask her, she has stayed clean ever since that day.
The numbers tell the real story
Since the new President Duterte took charge and initiated what most call the Filipino Drug War, the official death toll has gone beyond 3,000. Based on the numbers shared by their national police chief, at least half of them got killed in the encounters with police, while more than 700,000 Filipinos, like Diego, decided to surrender.
The numbers have certainly overwhelmed the government officials. The country doesn't have the required infrastructure to support so many Filipino drug addicts, nor does the government have the huge budget to fund their rehab therapy. There are less than 50 rehab centers in the whole country which are government-accredited.
The new laws are not for the faint of heart
"Now that we have chosen to surrender, we are being monitored very closely," Diego says. "But if we start using them (drugs) again, the cops will get to know for sure. And they will come looking for us." Diego, just like countless other Filipino drug addicts who surrendered, has to attend Zumba classes regularly, every other week.
Chief Inspector Paulito Sabulao, the commander at the precinct station, claims those who surrender and manage to stay clean (and away from all sorts of drug abuse) are going to be safe from the police activities in the country. "But I still have to warn them," he said, "if they continue to use or deal the drugs, they are likely to be killed."
There's pressure on cops to kill more of them
Cops who work under Chief Sabulao are yet to kill anyone since the drug war in the Philippines started a few months ago. And that has actually got him in trouble with his supervisors.
"My colonel was getting a lot of pressure from (his) bosses," Sabulao says, "and he asked me why haven't we killed anybody till now," he continued. "He has ordered me to start killing anyone who has a known drug habit. But I had to tell him I didn't want to rush and make any mistakes just to ensure that those people are actually criminals."
Gaining trust in the community and offering help
If you listen to Sabulao, he prefers to go with an approach that's more community-based instead of fear-inducing. He reaches out to people in his precinct and offers them any help and guidance they might require in helping the cops in identifying and eliminating the causes of threat.
"It's about developing relationships in the community based on trust. And it really seems to be working for us," he says. Petty crimes and theft in his precinct have dropped down significantly since the drug war in the Philippines started. And surprisingly, no drug-related murders happened in the area, either.
He's using the 400+ people who have surrendered in the precinct to find more about the drug dealers who still remain functional in the area.
Not letting the situation get out of hand
"If the police start killing local drug dealers, some drug suspects are likely to get paranoid that they are next on the hitlist," he explained. "So they will try eliminating the people they think might inform on them in order to save themselves from the crossfire. This means if we don't kill anybody, they will not kill anybody." Other officers and commanders, however, seem less cautious about this, and more eager to execute the orders.
Inevitable encounters prevail
Some 300 yards down the same street where Diego lives and in another precinct, many mourners gathered in the front of a coffin. It's of Aristotle Garcia (47), who got killed in a recent encounter with the police. The cops believe he was dealing drugs on the street. However, his sister, Karen, totally disagrees and claims he was just a drug user but never dealt drugs as they are claiming.
But there will be no further investigation into this matter.
Even while they are grieving, they are not standing against Duterte's war on drugs. But they wish the police was more careful in selecting their target.