Government News Analysis

China’s role in Fawkes focus

More criticism of the Philippine president’s prosecution of his war on illegal drugs – this time an ‘expose’ from Reuters that China is the main source of methamphetamine washing through the country. That’s hardly a revelation; practically everyone there knows that and has done for years.

But in the article Reuters raises a point which many people may have wondered about. It asks: given the administration’s close engagement with the Mainland, following the normalising of relations with Duterte’s trip to Beijing in October, how come there’s little apparent activity in taking out drug criminals and their operations at source? In other words, what are the Chinese doing in China to defeat this menace?

Of course we don’t have the answer to that. As any China watcher knows, on sensitive issues Beijing plays its cards very close to its chest. We do know that Duterte and Chinese President, Xi Jinping, put their signatures to an agreement by which their countries are to work closely to defeat the illegal-drugs traffic. But in fairness, that only happened just over a month ago, so it’s hard to see how much could have been contributed by the Chinese side in that time.

That said, some 50 members of Philippine law enforcement have undergone training in the fight against narcotics in western China. And though it‘ll take time to build the required infrastructure between the two countries to tackle this problem comprehensively, from what we can see, the commitment is there.

It’s also worth pointing out that China – with the strictest laws in the region when it comes to dealing with drug crime – has never denied that Mainland-based triads are responsible for much of the narcotics shipments getting into the Philippines.

Furthermore, Duterte’s personal commitment to this issue cannot be overstated. It probably ranks as his number one endeavour – for unless he gets this under control, the country’s true potential can never be realised. And there’s no doubt that China is well aware of how important this fight is for the Philippine president – a man whom they want to remain on side.

Duterte is the first Philippine president to meet this problem head on. His rationale for doing so closely mirrors that of English Catholic revolutionary, Guy Fawkes – that “A desperate disease requires a dangerous remedy”. And that dangerous remedy for Duterte is his war on the desperate disease of drugs that are killing his people.

He knows there’s no negotiating with this enemy; it can only be confronted. The alternative would be to go the route of Columbia or Mexico – narco states where branches of government became Drug Inc. subsidiaries. Or, capitulate like America, where drug death – whether from bad product, overdose, suicide or drug-related violence – seems to be tolerable. More Americans die from drug overdose than in car accidents.

As for the course of Duterte’s war, it’s clear that actions by the Philippine National Police and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency are starting to seriously disrupt the country’s crystal meth (shabu) industry.

Supply has been hit hard – this year nine labs have been dismantled and destroyed; exceeding the total for 2013-2015. Consequently, with the drop in supply street prices have rocketed, in some cases by as much as 600%, putting the drug out of the reach for many users. Furthermore, shabu seizures over the past 11 months are already two and a half times greater than last year’s. Then there’s the mass surrender of 700.000 pushers and addicts. Then there are the arrests and the killings of drug-trade personalities – including mayors, provincial politicians and local government officials.

And all that has happened in just over five months. The war on drugs, bloody though it’s been, is having positive results. That’s indisputable.

However, that said, it would be naïve to assume that Philippine law enforcement is well on the way to having this thing licked. It’s not; it’s a long way off that and the reality is that illegal drugs may never be completely eradicated in the archipelago.

Getting rid of this culture – effectively, its human resources; the bosses and the pushers – is like trying to solve a city’s cockroach or rat problem; it’s virtually impossible. The reality is that the best that can be hoped for is to get the pestilence under control. There’s always going to be a market for drugs – sadly, that seems to be a fact of life. Thus, success and failure are measured by the size of the sector, and so while the Philippines remains a big market, the fact that it’s shrinking shows some measure of the war’s success.

Illegal drugs are available even in Singapore – though it doesn’t have a drug problem. That’s because the city state, unlike the Philippines, never allowed the gangs to gain a foothold. And so, maintaining control, which Singapore does very effectively, is far easier than having to address a drug problem that’s been allowed to proliferate for decades.

Of course, everybody would like this thing to be over. Even for those of us who understand the necessity for the war, like all wars, it’s regrettable it has to be fought at all. It’s also extremely expensive and diverts resources, both human and financial, from other socio-economic areas which are crying out for attention.

But this is a legacy problem and if it’s left to be the next administration’s legacy problem and the same for the one after that, this country’s future will be desperate. It won’t just be the Sick Man of Asia, it’ll be populated by the walking dead.

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