PAGDARO SA KALINAW: We Can End the Drug War

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 07 December) — We can end the war on drugs today because the war on drug is first and foremost a war in our minds.

But before you write me off as hopelessly out of touch with the drug menace in society, let me rephrase my assertion: the [metaphor] of the “war on drugs” is only one way of understanding and acting on the issue of illegal drugs. Therefore, we can end this war by changing this metaphor, since the metaphor and framework that defines the situation determines the tools and strategies used to intervene in that reality.

By framing this as a “war,” we fall prey to the dynamic of “us vs. them,” and, instead of focusing on root causes and psycho-social dynamics of the issue at hand, we end up fighting each other rather than helping each other. We are seeing this polarization in cyberspace and divisions in relational space, straining and destroying friendships, and exposing some of the worst in our collective political discourse. The ultimate result is the fracturing of society and the dehumanization of the collective “other” whom we label as the “enemy.”

Additionally, not only does a “war” frame lead to the social polarization of “us vs. them,” it also means focusing on “victory vs defeat,” justifying the mobilization and deployment of deadly weaponry, tactics, and strategy in order to ensure victory and avoid defeat. Thus, actors must kill or be killed, eliminating the space where we can discover creative and life-giving alternatives.

Deadly force becomes the logical tool to ensure survival. This reality, ironically, quickly leads to the wasteland of moral ambiguity, where the absolute pursuit of justice justifies any and all means possible. The infrastructure of moral restraint and ethical guidance are quickly tossed aside as the fight degenerates into a battle for survival and a campaign to silence anyone who questions the framework that justifies the killing of the enemy.

The outcome of the “war on drugs” storyline is that those who are labeled as the “enemy” (in the logic of “us vs. them,”) are dehumanized, that is, characterized as evil, destructive, and dangerous in order to reduce our natural reluctance regarding their ultimate destruction (see my article “Killing Mary Jane Veloso” for an in-depth discussion of this.

Once the psychological barriers protecting the humanity of the other are eliminated, the only safe, sane, and moral response is to destroy and root out what is evil, which follows the logic of “victory vs defeat.” Thus, the framing of the war on drugs, like all wars and cycles of violence, leads to a circular logic justifying and rationalizing violence, and eventually, the perpetration of injustice. Some might think this is an attack on the police or the current political administration, but my point is quite the opposite.

The war framework is particularly dangerous for those with coercive power (police) and legalized deadly force (military), for once the sword is prioritized as the instrument of accountability, it quickly becomes nearly impossible to know who is corrupt and who is not. With the mandate to eliminate corruption at any cost, violent internal purges become standard operating procedure. When the dust settles at the end of the day, who is to know if the last one standing (whether regional commander or desk sergeant) is the good guy who cleaned out the bad guys, or the corrupt one who silenced the snitches. Either way, the ones who know the truth can no longer say, and the community that is supposed to trust them for public safety are left in fear and uncertainty.

In the current war zone of political discourse and actual reality, whether we support one side or the other, we have all been sucked into the logic of us vs. them and win vs. loss. The result, borrowing from the lingo of the nuclear arms race, is mutually assured destruction (MAD), the death not only of civil discourse and friendships, but of our shared Filipino identity, and literally, thousands of our fellow Filipinos – police, drug users, innocents – caught in the crossfire. We have sown the wind, now we reap the whirlwind. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Jeremy Simons was born and raised in the Philippines and has been a resident of Davao City since 2008 working as a peace and reconciliation advocate. He teaches conflict transformation at a variety of institutions and NGOs. He spends the majority of his time in restorative justice and peace accompaniment with Lumad First Nations and Muslim communities in Mindanao. The views expressed here are his own and do not reflect the position of any institution or group.)