Press Release
May 11, 2015

Sen. Vicente C. Sotto III
Privilege Speech

May 11, 2015

MR. PRESIDENT, we have a problem. In a certain barangay in Cebu City, the government is authorized to provide needles and injectible instruments to drug addicts and dependents. It is as if it is exempted from the operation of our criminal laws on drugs.

Why is this so, Mr. President?

Let me see how I can explain this. There is a western-minded way of thinking that seeks to minimize the harm done to others by using the so-called Harm Reduction strategy. Ano ba itong Harm Reduction Strategy o Harm Reduction Program na ito na isinusulong ng mga malalaking international organizations sa ating bansa?

Ang strategy nila ay ganito: kung hindi rin lang natin mapipigil, eh bawasan natin ang mga napapahamak. Meron kaisipan sa mga nag-dadrugs na kaya kumakalat ang mga sakit na HIV/AIDS ay sa kadahilanang nagpapasa-pasahan ng mga nagamit ng karayom ang mga addict na may AIDS kaya daw nagkakahawahan. Mabuti pa, sabi ng mga matatalinong umisip nito, ang gobyerno na ang magbigay ng bago at malinis na karayom at pang-iniksyon para di na kumalat ang sakit na HIV/AIDS.

Para bang sinabi natin na kung di rin lang mapipigilan ang mga kriminal na gumagamit ng kutsilyo na may kalawang, eh mabuti pang gobyerno na ang magbigay sa mga mamamatay-tao ng malinis at stainless na kutsilyo upang walang mamatay sa tetano pag nagsasaksakan ang mga tao.

This turn of events began on October 8, 2014, with Dangerous Drugs Board Resolution No. 298, entitled:

Approving the Proposed Operations Research on Community- Based Comprehensive Services for People Who Inject Drugs (PWID) in Barangay Kamagayan, Cebu City and the creation of a Technical Working Group (TWG) that will formulate its implementing guidelines.

Among the "Whereas" clauses of said DDB Resolution are:

Whereas, Section 81 (d) of the Act tasks the Board to initiate, conduct and support scientific, clinical , social, psychological, physical and biological researches on dangerous drugs and dangerous drugs prevention and control measures;

Whereas, the same report of the Cebu city HIV/AIDS Registry indicates that the primary cause of HIV transmission in Cebu City has shifted from sexual transmission in 2008 to injecting drug use starting 2010;

Whereas, the DOH proposes that the 24 month study be implemented in Barangay Kamagayan Cebu City, it being identified as one of the key areas of widespread sharing of needles among PWIDs, coupled with a growing number of reported HIV and HCV positive cases;

WHEREFORE, be it RESOLVED, as it is hereby RESOLVED, that the Board approves the implementation of a twenty-four month scientific and medical study of the DOH, Philippine National AIDS Council, the Local Government of Cebu City and Population Services International and funded by the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, to assess the effectiveness of a community-based comprehensive services for people who inject drugs in Barangay Kamagayan, Cebu City, provided;

a. That Barangay Kamagayan, where the Barangay Kamagayan Community Care Center (KC3) of Cebu City is located, be considered a safe zone , where there will be no arrests or apprehensions in relation to Section 12 (Possession of Equipment, instrument, Apparatus and other Paraphernalia for Dangerous Drugs) only insofar as the needle/syringe exchange program is concerned, with respect to identified and registered PWID participants and Kamagayan Health Personnel for the given period of the aforesaid study;

Alam ba ni Pangulong Aquino ito? I seriously doubt it.

We are lawmakers, and the Senate is filled with lawyers to the brim. Isn't it elementary, Mr. President, that this DDB Resolution is void and unenforceable being in conflict with the express mandate of the law, Section 12 of R. A. 9165, which states thus:

"Section 12. Possession of Equipment, Instrument, Apparatus and other Paraphernalia for Dangerous Drugs. -The penalty of imprisonment ranging from six (6) months and one (1) day to four (4) years a fine ranging from Ten thousand pesos (P10,000) to Fifty thousand pesos (P50,000) shall be imposed upon any person, who unless authorized by law, shall possess or have under his/her control any equipment, instrument, apparatus, and other paraphernalia fit or intended for smoking, consuming, administering, injecting, ingesting, or introducing any dangerous drug into the body; Provided, that in the case of medical practitioners and various professionals who are required to carry such equipment, instrument, apparatus and other paraphernalia in the practice of their profession, the Board shall prescribe necessary implementing guidelines thereof." These needles, or jeringuilla, o pang iniksyon, Mr. President, isn't these paraphernalia for injecting any dangerous drugs into the body illegal to be possessed all over the Philippines? Ang sabi nga ng mga kabataan, "Anyare?".

Our research on the web yields these remarks:

Needle-exchange programmes reduce the likelihood of users of heroin and other drugs sharing the syringes and using them more than once. Syringe-sharing can lead to infections such as HIV or hepatitis C can spread from user to users through the reuse of syringes contaminated with infected blood. Needle and syringe programme (NSP) outlets in some settings offer basic primary health care. Safe injection site are legally sanctioned, medically supervised facilities designed to address public nuisance associated with drug use and provide a hygienic and stress-free environment for drug consumers. The facilities provide sterile injection equipment, information about drugs and basic health care, treatment referrals, and access to medical staff.

The Harm Reduction strategy is, in reality, a pro-illegal drugs strategy. I had the occasion to speak against it before the United Nations Conference on Drugs and Crime in Vienna, Austria in 2008, representing the Philippines and was appointed speaker for Asia, and I saw a picket of European drug advocates in favor of Harm Reduction. Mr. President, this is the wrong approach in our society, in our culture. What message are we trying to send? Indonesia had just conveyed a strong message against drug trafficking, and here we are, with as much drug dependents as Indonesia might have, trying to use the soft approach like western nations do? Western solutions are not necessarily fit for our Eastern mind-set. We are losing hundreds of thousands of our youth to drugs and we adopt something as disastrous as this Harm Reduction strategy!

When I spoke against it, the United States and Russian representatives agreed with me. Sabi ko pa nga sa kanila, if they have enough money and willing to spend this money to distribute needles and syringes to drug addicts, then why don't they just give us the money so we could use it to feed the poor and send them to school instead.

The Harm Reduction Program being implemented in Cebu City is being opposed by the Local Government of Cebu as well as the Cebu City Anti-Drug Abuse Council(CADAC).

Cebu City had passed a resolution requesting the Department of Health to reconsider its approach under the Harm Reduction Program distributing syringes to barangays where incidence of illegal drug use is high.

Mr. President, matagal na itong itinutulak ng Department of Health. I remember, ASEC Tayag of the DOH approached me two years ago, asking me to reconsider my position on this matter. Galing sa DOH ang programang ito na pinopondohan ng mga international organizations.

The Cebu City Anti-Drug Abuse Council passed a Resolution No. 004-14 showing a strong opposition to the Cebu City Health Department's program of distributing free syringes to Persons Who Inject Drugs or PWID.

The DDB is not empowered to grant any group, body or agency to conduct clinical study in pursuit of HIV/AIDS prevention. What the law under Section 81 empowers them is that the study is for "drug prevention and control measures".

The HARM Reduction Program is a program for AIDS/HIV and not for drug prevention or control in fact it even sabotages the government's campaign for drug prevention and eradication.

DDB has no power to make an exemption to the Principle of Territoriality by declaring Brgy Kamagayan Center as "Free Zone or Safe Zone". No student of law, law enforcer or lawmaker would agree that a Board has the power to declare a certain area as SAFE ZONE or making the criminals or offenders immune from arrest or prosecution.

In the original draft of the DDB board resolution, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines objected on the grounds of violation of Section 12 of RA 9165

It is basic in Criminal Law that penal laws shall be enforced within the Philippine Territory. Republic Act 9165 is operative and no penal provision therein has been amended or repealed. Just because there are funds from financial institutions like the ADB and the World Bank for this project does not mean our laws and culture must accommodate it to the detriment of our youth and people.

Mr. President, bakit hindi na lang natin gawin na yung mga HIV positive ay tulungan, gamutin at alagaan, samantalang yung mga drug addict ay i-rehabilitate? Bakit pa natin kailangan na bigyan ng libreng syringe ang mga drug addict para lamang maipagpatuloy ang kanilang adiksyon? Kung gusto natin pigilan ang paglaganap ng HIV, eh di i-promote natin ang safe sex. Bakit, inabandoned na ba ng DOH ang sinusulong nila na pamumudmod ng condoms at ngayon eh pamumudmod na lamang ng karayom at jeringuilla ang kanilang adbokasiya ngayon?

This nonsense must stop. Thank you, Mr. President, colleagues.

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