I share the view that the resumption of the Senate inquiry into the Mamasapano tragedy is politically motivated, but not the view that this turn of events was unexpected.
Mamasapano, not “Yolanda,” is the Achilles heel of a still-popular President. A dispassionate reading of President Aquino’s political fortunes will show that the great controversy over the fate of Tacloban City in November 2013 did not in fact seriously affect his approval or satisfaction ratings.
His handling of the Mamasapano crisis, however, had an almost immediate impact on his popularity.
This is how I understand the Social Weather Stations survey data. In December 2013, Mr. Aquino had an overall satisfaction rating of plus-49 percent, with plus-50 percent or more in Luzon outside Metro Manila, in Mindanao, and in the Visayas which was still reeling from the supertyphoon. (Metro Manila, traditionally unforgiving of incumbents, came in at 22 percent.)
If we consider lag time as a factor, then the next SWS survey would have brought bad news. But in March 2014, the President was still at plus-45, with Visayas holding statistically steady at plus-49. (The bad news, survey-wise, came in in the next survey.)
But the impact of Mamasapano (the encounter happened on Jan. 25 a year ago, and the news trickled out the following day and then turned into a flood by the time the President decided to attend a factory inauguration rather than meet the coffins of the slain Special Action Force troopers) was clear and obvious in the same quarter. The March 2015 survey gave the President his lowest satisfaction rating ever, of plus-11—with Luzon outside Metro Manila at an astounding negative-3.
Mr. Aquino has since recovered, as far as survey ratings are concerned, but Mamasapano remains his point of greatest vulnerability.
In “What is Aquino accountable for?,” published about a week after the incident, I argued that the President was accountable for three failures:
First: “As more information emerges, it is becoming clearer that Oplan Wolverine [as the operation was then labeled, even by the President] was not designed to succeed. It is this failure that President Aquino and his subordinates who planned and approved the operation should be held accountable for …”
Second: “For this decision not to coordinate with the MILF (and, until it was too late, with the Philippine Army), and therefore raising the risks of the entire operation, President Aquino and his subordinates who planned and approved the operation should also be held accountable.”
And third: “it is his failure to ensure that the necessary exercise of violence that he had approved or encouraged or welcomed came with the equally necessary support.”
The following week, in “Patterns of sin in Aquino admin,” I tried to read the President’s third nationwide address on the Mamasapano tragedy, the one where he announced that he had accepted the resignation of suspended Philippine National Police chief Alan Purisima, as a series of clues into his administration’s “systematic shortcomings.” I wrote then: “One reading: a deadly combination of legal-staff sloth and self-justifying pride.”
I do not think these shortcomings rise to the level of an impeachable offense. There are no guarantees in war—except perhaps that people end up dead. The decision itself to commit considerable force to pursue the Malaysian terrorist known as Marwan cannot be faulted; I cannot imagine any court, even a quasi-court like an impeachment Senate, holding that the decision to pursue a known terrorist should not have been made.
But it is likely that the failures we and others have already identified will be the crux of the hearings tomorrow. There should be no underestimating Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile; he will come to tomorrow’s hearings well-prepared, and even if he cannot prove that the President committed an impeachable offense, he can do immense damage to the President’s reputation—and by extension to the President’s election clout.
The old question from the US Senate hearings on Watergate, the one asked by Howard Baker, will be the recurring question tomorrow: What did the President know, and when did he know it?
On the issue of a plan designed to fail (something that the brave officers in the PNP’s Board of Inquiry suggested in their report), the President (through his Cabinet secretaries) will likely be asked repeatedly about his decision to place Purisima in charge, even though his old friend had already been ordered suspended, and on the role of Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa.
On the issue of the deliberate decision not to coordinate with either the MILF, in contravention of existing agreements, or the Philippine Army, the President’s role will likely be probed. Whose decision was it to keep the Army in the dark? Did the President know, or did he in fact make the call?
On the issue of inadequate support (which, of course, is related to the lack of coordination with the Army), the President’s decision-making will be scrutinized. What happened, or did not happen, in Zamboanga City?
BOGOT?, Colombia ? Illegal drugs are a matter of national security, but the war against them cannot be won by armed forces and law enforcement agencies alone. Throwing more soldiers and police at the drug users is not just a waste of money but also can actually make the problem worse. Locking up nonviolent offenders and drug users almost always backfires, instead strengthening organized crime.
That is the message I would like to send to the world and, especially, to President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines. Trust me, I learned the hard way.
We Colombians know a thing or two about fighting drugs. Our country has long been one of the world?s primary suppliers of cocaine. With support from North American and Western European governments, we have poured billions of dollars into a relentless campaign to eradicate drugs and destroy cartels. I was personally involved in taking down the planet?s most notorious drug trafficker, Pablo Escobar, in 1993. While we managed to make Colombia a bit safer, it came at a tremendous price.
My government and every administration since threw everything at the problem ? from fumigating crops to jailing every drug pusher in sight. Not only did we fail to eradicate drug production, trafficking and consumption in Colombia, but we also pushed drugs and crime into neighboring countries. And we created new problems. Tens of thousands of people were slaughtered in our antidrug crusade. Many of our brightest politicians, judges, police officers and journalists were assassinated. At the same time, the vast funds earned by drug cartels were spent to corrupt our executive, judicial and legislative branches of government.
This heavy-handed approach to drugs did little to diminish the drug supply and demand in Colombia, much less in markets like Western Europe and the United States. In fact, drugs such as cocaine and heroin are as accessible as ever from Bogot? to New York to Manila.
The war on drugs is essentially a war on people. But old habits die hard. Many countries are still addicted to waging this war. As Colombia?s current president, Juan Manuel Santos, said, ?We are still thinking within the same framework as we have done for the last 40 years.? Fortunately, more and more governments also concede that a new approach is needed, one that strips out the profits that accompany drug sales while ensuring the basic human rights and public health of all citizens.
If we are going to get drugs under control, we need to have an honest conversation. The Global Commission on Drug Policy ? of which I am a founding member ? has supported an open, evidence-based debate on drugs since 2011. We strongly support reducing drug supply and demand, but differ fundamentally with hard-liners about how this should be achieved. We are not soft on drugs. Far from it.
What do we propose? Well, for one, we do not believe that military hardware, repressive policing and bigger prisons are the answer. Real reductions in drug supply and demand will come through improving public health and safety, strengthening anticorruption measures ? especially those that combat money laundering ? and investing in sustainable development. We also believe that the smartest pathway to tackling drugs is decriminalizing consumption and ensuring that governments regulate certain drugs, including for medical and recreational purposes.
While the Filipino government has a duty to provide for the security of its people, there is a real risk that a heavy-handed approach will do more harm than good. There is no doubt that tough penalties are necessary to deter organized crime. But extrajudicial killings and vigilantism are the wrong ways to go. After the killing of a South Korean businessman, Mr. Duterte seemed as if he might be closer to realizing this. But bringing the army in to fight the drug war, as he now suggests, would also be disastrous. The fight against drugs has to be balanced so that it does not infringe on the rights and well-being of citizens.
Winning the fight against drugs requires addressing not just crime, but also public health, human rights and economic development. No matter what Mr. Duterte believes, there will always be drugs and drug users in the Philippines. But it is important to put the problem in perspective: The Philippines already has a low number of regular drug users. The application of severe penalties and extrajudicial violence against drug consumers makes it almost impossible for people with drug addiction problems to find treatment. Instead, they resort to dangerous habits and the criminal economy. Indeed, the criminalization of drug users runs counter to all available scientific evidence of what works.
Taking a hard line against criminals is always popular for politicians. I was also seduced into taking a tough stance on drugs during my time as president. The polls suggest that Mr. Duterte?s war on drugs is equally popular. But he will find that it is unwinnable. I also discovered that the human costs were enormous. We could not win the war on drugs through killing petty criminals and addicts. We started making positive impacts only when we changed tack, designating drugs as a social problem and not a military one.
A successful president makes decisions that strengthen the public good. This means investing in solutions that meet the basic standards of basic rights and minimize unnecessary pain and suffering. The fight against drugs is no exception. Strategies that target violent criminals and undermine money laundering are critical. So, too, are measures that decriminalize drug users, support alternative sentencing for low-level nonviolent offenders and provide a range of treatment options for drug abusers. This is a test that many of my Colombian compatriots have failed. I hope Mr. Duterte does not fall into the same trap.
C?sar Gaviria was president of Colombia from 1990 to 1994 and the secretary general of the Organization of American States from 1994 to 2004.
Lessons from Another President on Fighting a War Against Drugs
Trust the man who oversaw the capture of Pablo Escobar.
By CHRISTOPHER PUHM | 23 hours ago
A drug war is fought by a country against its own people and as such it can’t be contained within a physical battlefield. There’s no obvious enemy and no clear path towards victory. There are no victors, only victims, and in a drug war, it’s too easy to mistake the victim for the enemy. C?sar Gaviria, the former president of Colombia, has fought his own war on drugs. His country spent billions of dollars in its fight against the cartels and Pablo Escobar was captured and killed on his watch. Gaviria didn’t win but he emerged from the fog of war with a new perspective on what to do going forward.
In a New York Times op-ed, the former president is brutally honest with how badly Colombia has fared in his self-described “heavy-handed approach to drugs.” It’s a message Mr. Gaviria would like to share with the world but especially with President Rodrigo Duterte, whose election promise seemed simple: to take out the drug dealers and users, by force if necessary or convenient, and restore order in a country longing for someone to finally do something, anything.
Mr. Gaviria warns that the war “cannot be won by armed forces and law enforcement agencies alone. Throwing more soldiers and police at the drug users is not just a waste of money but also can actually make the problem worse. Locking up nonviolent offenders and drug users almost always backfires, instead strengthening organized crime.”
The former head of state, who spent his presidency trying to bring in Pablo Escobar, cannot be accused of being soft on drugs and crime, but admits to having been “seduced into taking a tough stance on drugs during my time as president.” Along the way Mr. Gaviria learned that popularity cannot be mistaken for actually winning the war on the ground.
Our war on drugs is still in its infancy but fatigue is already starting to show, both in a nervous population and in the health of President Duterte, who in a rare moment with the press revealed to having experienced chest pains. The killing of a South Korean businessman by police officers may have been the reason for this brief health concern, but Mr. Gaviria’s hope that the killing would lead to a policy reversal in Duterte’s war on drugs proved to be short lived. He believes that “there is no doubt that tough penalties are necessary to deter organized crime. But extrajudicial killings and vigilantism are the wrong ways to go. [B]ringing the army in to fight the drug war… would also be disastrous.”
Instead, his op-ed declares that his country started to make “positive impacts only when we changed tack, designating drugs as a social problem and not a military one.” He adds that “[w]inning the fight against drugs requires addressing not just crime, but also public health, human rights and economic development. No matter what Mr. Duterte believes, there will always be drugs and drug users in the Philippines. But it is important to put the problem in perspective: The Philippines already has a low number of regular drug users.”
The former Colombian president and founding member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy says that scientific evidence leads him to believe that the criminalization of drug users is counterproductive and only leads to addicts being pushed further towards the fringes of society. What's really needed is “an open, evidence-based debate on drugs.” From a former president to a current president, Mr. Gaviria’s message is simply, “Trust me, I learned the hard way.” To which Mr. Duterte responded, "That idiot."