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Committing the same mistakes

VALENTINE’S Day, supposedly a day for lovers, has some historical origins. We Filipinos copied the celebrations from the Americans. And as usual, we have managed to commercialize the event more than the Americans do.

Would you believe that my family thought of marking Valentine’s Day by having a family dinner, but found out as early as last week that our favorite five-star hotels in Makati and The Fort have already been booked? Hotels have raised their rates to accommodate couples who want to express their love to one another! I would not be surprised that even motels are all occupied. This is the favorite resorts of illicit lovers, my gulay.

There are many accounts of how Valentine’s Day began. Some trace it to an ancient Roman festival called Lupercalia. Other experts connect the event to one or more saints of the early Christian church. Still others link it with an old English belief that birds choose their mates on Feb. 14.

Before World War II, when I was in elementary and high school, we marked Valentine’s Day by placing paper hearts on our left chest.

These days, we go overboard. The affluent mark it by dinners at expensive places. To the poor, it is just an ordinary day.

I send flowers to my wife on Valentine’s Day, as I have done for the past 61 years. I do the same on her birthday and on our anniversary. She tells me to stop this practice because flowers are getting too expensive. It is one occasion I don’t want to listen to her. After all, I vowed to keep loving her, for better or for worse, until death do us part.

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The former president of Colombia, Cesar Gaviria, gave some unsolicited advice last week to President Duterte in an opinion piece that appeared in the New York Times.

Gaviria, who was president from 1990 to 1994, cautioned Mr. Duterte against repeating his mistakes in the war on illegal drugs. He advised the Philippine president that waging war on drugs through law enforcement—using the police and the military—is a futile exercise.

President Duterte called Gaviria an “idiot.” He said the Philippines and Colombia were different. In Colombia, drug cartels—like the one led by Pablo Escobar—manufactured cocaine and heroin in laboratories and distributed them to the United States and other parts of the world. In the Philippines, it is mostly shabu.

According to Duterte, shabu is more potent than cocaine and heroin. The former affects the brain, making criminals out of shabu users.

President Duterte also said that it was the United States that fought Colombia’s drug war. It sent its Drug Enforcement Agency people to that country and poured billions of dollars as well as other material aid.

Mr. Duterte misses the point. What Gaviria said was that “winning the war against drug requires addressing not just crime, but also public health, human rights and economic development.” He also added that “no matter what Mr. Duterte believes, there will always be drugs and drug users in the Philippines.

Gaviria said that the application of severe penalties against drug consumers makes it almost impossible for them to be treated. Instead, they resort to dangerous habits and a criminal economy.

Taking a hardline against criminals is always popular for politicians, Gaviria said. “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 remains popular. But he will find that it is unwinnable. I also discovered that the human costs were enormous. We could not win the war 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.”

But President Duterte’s war on illegal drugs is not dissimilar from that in Colombia.

What President Duterte missed in Gaviria’s piece was the need to go back to the basic problems of illegal drugs—criminality and corruption. Why do you think that the poor, who are mostly the targets of the drug war, resort to drug peddling and drug pushing? Why do you think policemen are easily corrupted and become, themselves, the criminals that Duterte wants to eliminate? Santa Banana, it all boils down to poverty and joblessness.

On the streets of Manila, you see boys and girls sniffing solvents. They suffer from hunger and poverty. A drug user becomes a drug pusher so he can fund his addiction. Sooner or later, he becomes a criminal.

Gaviria said: “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.”

The poor are easy targets for drug cartels and their associates, including financiers and protectors from the police and other law-enforcement agencies.

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Incidentally, my wife and I have been watching “Narcos,” a Netflix series on the life and times of Pablo Escobar.

Santa Banana, watching all the killings during those years, including innocent bystanders, even children and women, I am reminded of what’s happening in the Philippines where more than 7,000 have already been killed.

In the show there are too many killings and Escobar manages not only to outwit the government of Colombia. He even escapes prison.

Escobar became very popular among the people because ala Robin Hood, he helped the poor.

Like the Philippines, the Colombian government also had its communist insurgency fighting the government while aligning themselves with the poor. Only recently, the Colombian government ended the FARC insurgency problems.

But the war in drugs continues, as it has for the past 50 years, because there is always a demand for drugs especially in the US and Europe.

Topics: Emil Jurado , Valentine’s Day , Cesar Gaviria , war on illegal drugs , Narcos , Netflix series , Pablo Escobar
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