As the Phillipines grapples with legalization of medical cannabis, citizens continue to be slaughtered by the brutal anti-drug policies of President Duterte.
The unjust and inhumane Wars on Drugs has never been restricted to North America. In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte has been harshly cracking down on drug users since his entry to office in June 2016. And it’s not just imprisonment that his people face. Anyone connected to or using cannabis can face a long jail sentence, but extralegal vigilantes have roamed the streets and killed anyone in possession of cannabis or narcotics.
Thousands of Filipinos have died as Duterte has provided “police death squads a free hand to kill suspected dealers and users” (Irish Times). And now, despite this, the government is looking to legalize medical cannabis.
Duterte “The Punisher”
The current president is a controversial one. Duterte “The Punisher” founded the War on Drugs in the Philippines – in fact, that’s why he won the election. He promised his people an iron fist when it comes to criminal and drug activity. His short profile on Forbes says enough to know that his career has thus far been backed by scandal and controversial statements.
The great irony is that after Duterte experienced a serious motorcycle collision in 2014, he began taking fentanyl for pain. Duterte suffered a spinal injury, and instead of taking just a quarter of a patch at a time, he explained that “I used the whole thing because, more than just the disappearance of pain, you feel that you are on cloud nine, as if everything is okay with the world, nothing to worry about.”
Well, Duterte may not be aware of this, but what he just described was a psychoactive high. Taking drugs for pain is supposed to stop at eliminating pain. When it doesn’t – as in the case of taking more than the dose prescribed, like Mr Duterte – that’s when you face risk of addiction. And though he often falls back on the “I was just joking” push back, people in his own country and across the globe know there’s nothing funny about fentanyl.
When asked about his statement in which he explained his use of fentanyl, Duterte explained, “Fools, I just made up that story and you believed it.” If that seems to you like a way to get out of accusations of hypocrisy and needless murder, then you’re not alone.
This month he said “I use marijuana to keep me awake” when he described his exhaustion and the over-packed schedule of being the Filipino President. Later, after reporters and citizens alike expressed their frustration at his negligence while thousands die under his overly harsh War on Drugs, he said, “It was a joke, of course it was a joke, but nobody can stop me from just doing my style. If I want to joke, I will joke. Now, if you believe it, then you’re stupid.”
His fallback is to constantly accuse others of foolishness, while he makes senseless and tactless ‘jokes’ at the expense of his victims. There are few countries where it would be more dangerous to consume cannabis.
Cannabis in the Philippines
Right now, those in possession of cannabis face hefty fines and prison sentences.
And, unfortunately, not everyone is in support of the changes in medical legislation. The University of the Philippines, Manila has spoken up against legalization of medical cannabis. Their reason? They believe that “this will expose our citizenry to unnecessary harm and the risk of poor health outcomes.” As a medical cannabis bill is set to pass soon, this statement from UP Manila is disappointing.
The new medical cannabis law would require patients to receive a prescription and get their medicine, and any paraphernalia associated with their prescription, from hospitals in the country. They would also be required to carry identification cards showing the approval for use of the plant. Doctors will undergo specific training for prescribing cannabis and it will be a ‘last resort’ after other treatments have failed.
To make this a little convoluted, Senate President Vincent Sotto III has put in a last minute claim that there is no need to legalize medical cannabis because it’s already allowed for compassionate use (HIV, cancer, “life-threatening” illness). The Bureau of Food and Drugs (now FDA) drafted Health Administrative Order 4s in 1992, which “recognizes the need for drugs and devices product/preparation which are not registered or are in the process of registration in the Philippines by patients who are terminally or seriously ill.”
As it stands, House Bull 6517 (Philippine Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act), which will legalize medical cannabis, is now before the House of Representatives.
The bill is likely to pass despite some authorities, like UP Manila, speaking out against cannabis. It’s made it through the House committee. The bill’s author, First District Representative Rodolfo Albano of Isabela, explained the purpose of the bill to CNN Philippines, “It’s very clear in the bill. We’re not doing it for recreational purposes and we are not decriminalizing marijuana. Marijuana is still considered as a dangerous drug and all the laws pertaining to the use of marijuana and the planting of marijuana is not decriminalized.”
The contradiction of cannabis as ‘dangerous’ and yet still able to be used as a medicine while the president appears to be addicted to fentanyl seems lost on the Filipino government.