The Philippine Government takes exception to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Report, especially as it relates to Philippine efforts to effectively address the pervasive menace and destructive effects of illegal drugs in the country.

The Philippines calls on the OHCHR to foster a positive spirit of cooperation with States Parties, with the view of releasing an unbiased report based on facts, legitimate figures and continuing consultations with key anti-drug agencies in the Philippines.

Time and again, the Philippine government has openly presented its plan of action to address the national drug abuse situation. Governed by the Philippine Anti-Illegal Drugs Strategy or PADS, all agencies of the government have been directed to implement initiatives on drug prevention and control that are aimed towards cutting the supply of and demand for dangerous drugs.

What is enforced is a whole-of-nation approach that unites, balances, and strengthens complementing law enforcement and public health strategies. Calling the campaign as a “heavy handed” effort is dismaying.

The Philippine Anti-Illegal Drugs Strategy, institutionalized by virtue of an Executive Order issued by President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, explicitly states that our strategy is to achieve drug-free communities through supply reduction efforts involving aggressive law enforcement and prosecution with strong adherence to the rule of law and observance of human rights, coupled with comprehensive demand reduction initiatives and supported by strong regional and international ties.

This echoes the United Nations’ fundamental principle of tackling the drug problem in a comprehensive, integrated, and balanced way as clearly expressed in the 1998 and 2009 Political Declaration adopted by the General Assembly. Concretely, in the Philippines, the convergence of the drug supply and drug demand reduction efforts is articulated in various policies and programs that are in place.

Drug supply reduction, an indispensable component, targets the elimination or significant reduction of cultivation production, manufacture, sale, trafficking and distribution of illicit drugs. On the ground, its implementation is based on the legal framework of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 or Republic Act 9165 which clearly outlines drug-related offenses and their corresponding legal consequences. This major law is supplemented by Board regulations, such as the Strengthening the Implementation of Barangay Drug Clearing Program (Board Regulation No. 3, s. 2017) and Guidelines for Community Involvement in Reforming Drug Offenders into Self-sufficient and Law-abiding Members of Society (Board Regulation No. 2, s. 2018). Supply reduction measures utilize law enforcement, judicial action, and alternative development programs to alleviate poverty and promote public well-being.

Drug demand reduction is equally crucial as it complements all anti-drug efforts. It is equally emphasized in RA 9165 which mandates curricular integration of preventive drug education concepts, treatment and rehabilitation of drug dependents and active engagement of both government and civil society in advocacy and social mobilization efforts. There are also several DDB regulations that support this such as the establishment of drug-free workplace policies on government offices (Board Regulation No. 13, s. 2018), institutionalization of uniform prevention education in the Sangguniang Kabataan or Youth Council in the local government units (Board Regulation No. 5, s. 2019), institutionalization of protocols in handling children allegedly involved in dangerous drugs (Board Regulation No. 6, s. 2019), and consolidation of revised rules governing access to treatment and rehabilitation services including community-based interventions (Board Regulation No. 7, s. 2019). In February 2020, the Dangerous Drugs Board rolled out nutritional guidelines based on a research conducted by the Department of Science and Technology - Food and Nutrition Research Institute on nutrition and quality of life of Persons Who Use Drugs (PWUDs). This puts premium to the health and wellness component of the treatment and rehabilitation programs to make them more effective.

In terms of supply reduction programs, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency and the Philippine National Police continue their high-impact operations involving high-value targets. They have also intensified regular anti-drug operations including drug busts, controlled delivery and other interdictions.

On drug demand reduction, various prevention settings have been utilized in the country. For families, the Dangerous Drugs Board designed the Systematic Training for Effective Parenting (STEP) program and the Department of Social Welfare and Development disseminates the Family Drug Abuse Prevention Program (FDAPP). Meanwhile, in the school setting, the Department of Education developed a unified framework on preventive drug education to further strengthen the delivery of its National Drug Education Program (NDEP). Its major strategy is delivering universal prevention through the Barkada Kontra Droga or Peer Group Against Drugs in all schools. For the work setting, all government agencies have established their respective drug-free workplace programs. For the community, the Department of Health with the Department of the Interior and Local Government spearheads preventive drug education that targets the general public, persons who use drugs (PWUDs), their families and the service providers. The DOH also launched a Helpline, a frontline initiative dedicated to provide key information and support regarding available treatment options, rehabilitation and recovery interventions, referral network and support services through telephone and online services. To support the establishment of community-based drug abuse treatment and rehabilitation facilities and implement anti-drug priorities under the PADS, the budget of the DDB alone has been augmented by eighty-eight percent (88%). Other agencies like the Department of Health and the Department of the Interior and Local and Government has also received budget increases for the implementation of their drug abuse prevention and control activities.

It is clear that the mechanism for a balanced approach to the drug issue is firmly in place through the legal frameworks and programs of the various agencies of the Philippine government. There are also initiatives targeting both supply and demand which have also been emphasized in the Executive Order signed by the President institutionalizing PADS. These are the programs implemented by the Local Government Units (LGUs). Under Section 5 of the Executive Order, LGUs are directed to strengthen their anti-drug abuse councils, work in partnership with the law enforcement in the conduct of drug clearing operations, and coordinate with the Department of Health for the assessment and management of PWUDs.

All the necessary policies have been clearly laid out and none of these permit abuses of authority. The Philippine government does not condone extra judicial killings. As it strengthens the anti-drug campaign, it also reinforces the sense of accountability among front-liners and duty bearers. Cases filed against erring offices are being dealt with according to the provisions of the law with corresponding sanctions and penalties as prescribed by due process.

The full and effective implementation of laws and policies remains at the core of the Philippine Government’s success as it sets the direction of the programs to be implemented. In general, this mutually reinforcing approach to supply and demand reduction puts a premium on achieving proportionality of effort, resources, and investments to achieve drug-free communities by 2022.

The Philippines remains committed to doing its share in the global fight against the drug menace. It continues to believe that this is a common and shared responsibility, thus it has been religious in its participation in regional and international platforms in adherence to UN conventions and treaties.

The OHCHR Report is uncalled for and unwarranted. It is discouraging to note that despite the initiated efforts by key anti-drug government agencies in the Philippines, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights failed to take into consideration the policy documents, clarificatory explanations and responses including engagement in dialogues to enlighten the crafters of the said report and make them appreciate the government’s side in the implementation of the anti-drug campaign.