The ‘war on drugs’: Saying too much is saying nothing

Social media have been abuzz over a tweet attributed to Dr. Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, who was recently in Manila as a keynote speaker at a forum organized by the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG).

The controversial tweet reads: “@AgnesCallamard – Prof Carl Hart: No evidence Shabu leads to violence or brain damage. #Philippines drug policy forum”

It should be clarified that the “Dr.” attached to Callamard’s name has nothing to do with being a medical specialist or psychiatrist. She has a PhD in Political Science, thus the “Dr.” appellation. Her official position in the UN is Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

Wikipedia describes her as “an expert on a number of international and UN human rights initiatives.” No mention at all of any expertise on the effects of drugs like shabu on people.

Of course, Callamard didn’t claim that the tweeted opinion was hers, but if she has any understanding of the dynamics of communications, she should have known that quoting a third person’s opinion  could be misunderstood as endorsing it. Not surprisingly, that led people to assume that the opinion was her own.

Callamard’s tweet on shabu reminds me of a screening in California of a movie that  had Manny Pacquiao in the lead role. Having been invited to the event, I was asked what I thought of Pacquiao’s performance.

My response: “As an actor, Manny Pacquiao is an excellent boxer.” I was too polite to suggest that he should not quit his day job.

With due respect to Callamard, she should have limited her social media postings to the subject of ”extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions”—conceivably, her area of expertise.

In advertising, there is an axiom: Saying too much is saying nothing.

By making that needless tweet, Callamard shifted the discussion to her debatable familiarity with the effects of shabu, and away from the very serious problem of extra-judicial killings.

I’m guessing that Philippine Ambassador to the UN, Teddy Boy Locsin, welcomed Callamard’s tweet, because it gave him respite from a defensive and indefensible position at the UN. He must have relished calling Callamard an “idiot” and, by extension, implying that she had been dispatched to the Philippines by fellow idiots in the UN.

I have one more point to make, and this is on the opinion of Prof. Carl Hart that there is “no evidence shabu leads to violence or brain damage” and his findings that “85-90 per cent of people who used illegal drugs do not become addicted.”

Has Hart tried to play Russian Roulette? Cocking a six-shooter with only one bullet loaded means that the odds are five-to-one that he will not blow his brains out. But will he take that chance?

At any rate, all of these innuendoes unnecessarily draw attention away from the real issue at hand. Extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

No amount of legalistic somersaults by the apologists of President Rodrigo Duterte and no amount of childish name-calling by his die-hard fans can justify the number of questionable killings perpetrated during Duterte’s first year in office.

Like Callamard, Duterte’s apologists have been saying too much and really saying nothing.

They have made a big thing of the “inconsistency” in the number of deaths reported, ranging from 3,000 to 8,000. And they have pointed to Singapore’s harsh anti-drug policy – death by hanging – to justify the killings.

Note, however, that there were only 259 drug-related executions in Singapore from 1991 to 2017 or a period of 26 years, according to statistics compiled by Amnesty International.

Pray tell, is there any comparison with Duterte’s thousands in only one year?

Indeed, Singapore has been unforgiving in its campaign against drugs, but in a March 2017 speech, Minister for Home Affairs K Shanmugam asserted:

“The death penalty is applied only and strictly in the context of an unwavering commitment to the rule of law. In fact, you could argue that a prerequisite is an unwavering commitment to the rule of law, resting on a strong and independent judiciary. There must be fair and transparent laws and due process… Capital punishment is carried out only after due judicial process and in accordance with the law.”

Even Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo, known to also take a hardline against the drug  menace, has expressed reservations about a “shoot on sight” policy: “If it was allowed by law then I would order the National Police and the BNN [National Narcotics Agency] chief to do so, but luckily it is not.”

Can Duterte and his Chief of Executioners, Philippine National Police Director General Ronald “Bato” de la Rosa say as much? Have the police killed alleged drug users or pushers “in the context of an unwavering commitment to the rule of law” as Singapore insists it does, and “only after due judicial process and in accordance with the law”?

Are people supposed to believe that everyone killed in the course of a drug raid “resisted arrest” and “tried to draw their guns” at the police?

Are people supposed to believe that this was what happened when Albuera, Leyte Mayor Rolando Espinosa and a cell companion, Raul Yap, were shot in cold blood inside their jail cell by elements of the PNP?

Can Ambassador Teddy Boy Locsin and Duterte apologist Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano attribute to “due process” the killing of Korean businessman Jee Ick Joo inside Camp Crame, near the office of De la Rosa, after a “tokhang” raid?

Is it humane for Duterte to dismiss the deaths of young children, in the course of drug-related shootings, as “collateral damage”

Are people supposed to believe that the PNP has absolutely nothing to do with the thousands of killings attributed to “vigilantes”?

Vice-President Leni Robredo has been accused of “shaming the Philippines” for her video message to the 60thannual meeting of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna in which she reported that “more than 7,000 people (had) been killed in summary executions.”

Robredo has been accused of “lying to the world.” But if she was lying about the killings, wouldn’t that make Duterte a liar too? After all, he is the one who has been bragging about filling Manila Bay with dead bodies in his war on drugs.

In a December report by AFP News Agency, Duterte was quoted as follows: “In Davao I used to do it personally. I’d go around in Davao with a motorcycle, with a big bike around (sic), and I would just patrol the streets, looking for trouble also. I was really looking for a confrontation so I could kill.”

Did Robredo’s report to the UN shame the Philippines more than Duterte has done with his boasting about personally killing people and his assertion that “Hitler massacred three million Jews…Now, there are 3 million drug addicts. … I’d be happy to slaughter them”?

As to the “shaming of the Philippines” ostensibly caused by Robredo and by those who have brought the issue of extra-judicial killings to the attention of the UN, it may serve a good purpose to recall the preface (English translation) of Dr. Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere where he justified his frank exposure of the social cancer afflicting his beloved country:

“Desiring thy welfare, which is our own, and seeking the best treatment, I will do with thee what the ancients did with their sick, exposing them on the steps of the temple so that everyone who came to invoke the Divinity might offer them a remedy.

“And to this end, I will strive to reproduce thy condition faithfully, without discriminations; I will raise a part of the veil that covers the evil, sacrificing to truth everything, even vanity itself, since, as thy son, I am conscious that I also suffer from thy defects and weaknesses.” (

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