Press Release
November 14, 2011

Senator Vicente C. Sotto III

Justice Sector Coordinating Council (JSCC)

My congratulations to the Judicial and Executive Departments of the Philippine Government for this forum on illegal drugs. My presence signifies the keen interest of the legislative department on the same subject matter and my heartfelt thanks for the kind invitation to give a message.

Our regional grouping , the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or Asean, have a self-imposed target of a drug-free Asean by 2015. I am hopeful that this gathering of our country's best minds and arms of the law in the justice sector could very well be the catalyst we are hoping for to achieve our objective. We need to change gears for power and speed to attain the dream of a drug-free Philippines for a drug-free Asean.

The twin strategies of Supply Reduction and Demand Reduction are still the conventional weapons against illegal drugs. There will be no supply of illegal drugs if there is no demand for them . The day the buying stops is the same day the selling stops.

Culture, politics and economics affect the way the world fights illegal drugs. Western and Eastern perspectives deal differently with the illegal drugs malady.

The Western mind views with tolerance the use of some of nature's mind-altering plants with compassion and predisposes them to a Harm Reduction Strategy for injectible drug dependents. Thus, we have over-the-counter access to marijuana in some coffee shops of Europe. However, latest news coming from the Netherlands show a trend towards stricter regulations on this matter, and the prohibition of stronger varieties of marijuana. In the UN Conference on Drugs and Crime which tackled illegal drugs in Vienna, Austria, two years ago where I had the occasion to speak for Asia, a noisy group of drug dependents batted for the Harm Reduction Strategy, which would propose provision of clean and new needles to intravenous drug users to reduce aids prevalence. I was happy to have been instrumental in the rejection of the Harm Reduction strategy in that forum.

The Eastern view to which we are more culturally attuned, favor discipline and harsh penalties. Asians usually do not spare the rod, mete out long prison terms, and the death penalty even, for some drug-related crimes and offenses. The experience of Singapore and China are exhibits A and B.

The North-South divide, or rich and poor continents, also affect the drug trade. Illegal drugs go up to the rich countries of the North, while their sophisticated guns go down to propel the various ethnic and liberation wars of the South. Thus the expression - "The drugs go up, while the guns go down." The story of Afghanistan is Exhibit C for this thesis. Their opium plantations fund their wars.

Closer to the subject at hand, may I take this opportunity to point certain issues to ponder upon in this forum:

1. The age of criminal responsibility:

We have set this now at 18 and above for legal responsibility, with a band of lower age where there is discernment. Obviously drug lords also know the law, and utilize those below 18 for their errands and point-of-sale transactions on the street level.

2. The option for plea bargaining:

This is not available under present laws. Should we make it available and hasten conviction for a lesser offense and keep the pusher off the streets?

3. Study our statistics:

The role that statistics plays in our campaign needs further looking into. Conviction rates would be a good indicator of our performance on this matter, without sacrificing the adherence to the truth and the rule of law. Former statistics placed our drug dependents at 6.7 million several years ago. The more accurate version is just above one million. At 6.7 million drug users/dependents, we had a higher number than China with a population of over one billion. Other countries base the figure on detained people on drugs, while we project our drug dependents from extrapolated surveys.

A crime-free society has been a dream since the beginning of society. But the human condition, being what it is, succumbs to the darker side of nature sometimes. The hand of Cain must be restrained by laws, and those who transgress them must suffer the wrath of the law. Dura Lex Sed Lex as the lawyers say.

The dilemma besetting our campaign against illegal drugs is the constant tension of helping the user and jailing the pusher. There are times when these two personas are found in one and the same person, that is, the user, in order to maintain his vice, usually does some pushing on the side to obtain his own supply free as a commission for the effort.

We in Congress shall await with much expectation the distillation of the discussions, suggestions and recommendations that will result from this forum for purposes of legislative policy formulation.

Thank you and good day.

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