When many international readers see the phrase “war on drugs”, they do not think of the infants being raped by Shabu uses in The Philippines nor do they think of the jihadist and far-left terrorism funded by the trafficking of the prevalent form methamphetamine in south east Asia. Such people do not think of the arson, murder and torture of civilians committed by Shabu users but instead think of the mentality conveyed by the frankly absurd American public service style film Reefer Madness which debuted in 1936.
Yet the long running American style top down war on drugs which began as assaults on marijuana users and more recently saw the CIA helping to funnel crack cocaine into predominately African-American inner cities, is a far cry from Duterte’s people centred war on drugs. Duterte has always made it clear that unless the plague of Shabu is removed from the streets and seas of The Philippines, the country will be consumed by the drug problem at all levels of society, thus harming the educational, economic and social potential of future generations – all the while attracting more international terrorism to the country.
But what isn’t mentioned in the context of the Philippine drug war is that Duterte was and remains equally clear about giving an amnesty to drug users who turn themselves into authorities who them provide them with free medical rehabilitation treatment, while Duterte has also consistently stated that lethal force is only to be used against those on drugs or drug dealers if they themselves present a danger to the lives of nearby civilians or police officers.
Likewise, Duterte has always drawn a clear distinction between dangerous drugs like Shabu, heroin and cocaine (which is less common in Asia than in the Americas and Europe) and herbal narcotics like marijuana (cannabis). To this end, Duterte has long spoken in favour of legalising the use of marijuana for medical purposes although this policy stance by Duterte has largely been buried by corporate media…at least until now.
Duterte recently told a joke about smoking marijuana to stay awake during a recent ASEAN summit. To more worldly individuals this was intentionally comical for two reasons. First of all, Duterte admitted to taking power naps during less important sessions of the recent summit while secondly, marijuana if anything is known more for making people relaxed or even sleepy than it is for being a stimulant like caffeine.
Of course, Duterte’s joke about marijuana led many of his humourless opponents to accuse him of hypocrisy due to his famed drug war, but such people ought to have known that the drug war in The Philippines is now and has always been about a level of hard core drugs that are as related to marijuana as a bottle of beer is to rocket fuel.
Duterte’s Presidential spokesman used the opportunity to clarify that Duterte remains in favour of medicinal marijuana while Duterte himself said about his humorous remark:
“That is my style, and you cannot make me change it…Of course it was a joke… If you believed it, then you really are a stupid idiot”.
Once again, Duterte his proved that his humour laced off the cuff speaking style can help to highlight important social policy issues that otherwise remain ignored. Duterte’s war on drugs is not a futile war but is instead a war against a virulent scourge of violence inducing terror that has resulted from the decades long growth in the illegal Shabu trade. By contrast, as Duterte has introduced universal health care to The Philippines, he is keenly aware that for certain terminal ailments, marijuana is a cost effective, organic and often deeply helpful source of pain relief.
Once again the lack of basic humour in Duterte’s opponents has been successfully exploited in order to reaffirm a well known and important policy issue that now stands a better chance of becoming law thanks to the added media attention derived from Duterte’s smoking joke.