He points to various community-based livelihood programs (including organic farming and livestock raising) and the expansion of residential rehab centers as evidence of the government’s comprehensive approach to addiction treatment.“The community must look at [addicts] not as criminals, but as people who need help,” Castriciones says. Duterte has pushed for the reinstatement of capital punishment and called on Congress to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 15 to 9 years old.
His appeal is a far cry from the president’s own words.“Are they humans? In reference to the construction of a new mega rehab center, located on the country’s largest military reservation, Duterte suggested the center “use high-wire fences so [the patients] get scared.”Many rehab doctors find such rhetoric unhelpful.“It actually distorts how the [drug] problem needs to be treated,” says Dondi Ayuyao, executive director of the New Beginnings Foundation in greater Manila.
Poor tricycle cab drivers sniff shabu — Filipino slang for methamphetamine — to stay awake throughout the night to be able to earn more money.
For the breadwinners of impoverished families, there often seems to be no alternative.“The problem with the drug war is the way the administration views the drug problem,” says Wilnor Papa, the local campaign coordinator for Amnesty International.
The government, meanwhile, did little to clean up its rhetoric.“We often see the police or even our legislators say that the menace of society is drugs and if we solve drugs then we solve everything,” says Lee Yarcia, a researcher at No Box Transitions.
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“People like to subscribe to this narrative because it’s an easier solution, but it’s not evidence-based.”No Box is a rehab center that advocates harm reduction, a more therapeutic approach to addiction treatment.Until then, drug users will continue to seek refuge in rehab centers.Doctors will continue treating a population consumed by fear and drug users will still be gunned down in the streets. The group also claimed that the programs criminalizing drug use only vilify drug users, violate human rights, and disregard legal and due process. “The approach of criminalizing drug use violates the human rights of drug users and runs counter to the prevailing scientific view of addiction that is articulated in the new Mental Health Law,” PAP said, referring to the Philippine Mental Health Law signed by President Rodrigo Duterte in June 2018. Its priority isn’t preventing abuse, but acknowledging that “the person using drugs is first and foremost a person,” says Inez Feria, the founder.Although harm reduction is not yet universally accepted in the Philippines, a bill recently filed in the Senate looks to mainstream the approach.It hasn’t been easy treating addiction since the start of the drug war.“The reasons for the death of drug addicts have suddenly changed,” says Guillermo Gomez, the director. Some of the victims include those who have voluntarily surrendered to the authorities.Many fear that implicating yourself might actually put you more at risk.Occupancy at the Bicutan Rehabilitation Center, for example, has been stretched more than double its capacity of 550 beds. Bien Leabres has been forced to provide less one-on-one counseling and more group therapies and activities.When patients vent their fears of reintegrating into society (a common occurrence), Leabres listens.“We let it flow so they can have catharsis,” says Leabres, the chief medical doctor at Bicutan.“The challenge for therapists now is to shift the thoughts of the patients from being fearful to motivating them to change,” he adds.