Pubdate: Tue, 06 Sep 2016
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2016 The New York Times Company
Author: Richard C. Paddock


MANILA - Rayzabell Bongol, an 18-year-old mother and methamphetamine 
user, was afraid to die in President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs 
in the Philippines. So she turned herself in to the police. They made 
her sign a pledge that she would never take illegal drugs again, then 
sent her home.

Once a week now, she is expected to attend a police-sponsored Zumba 
dance workout, where she gets a health check and a meal. Mr. Duterte 
"promised change," she said at a recent class as three dozen other 
recovering addicts bopped and swayed to a blaring Latin beat. "As you 
can see, I am changing."

Across the Philippines, the killing of some 1,300 drug suspects in 
the last two months has frightened hundreds of thousands of people 
like Ms. Bongol into turning themselves in. Officials cite the 
estimated 687,000 people who have surrendered, which vastly exceeded 
expectations, as evidence that Mr. Duterte's deadly campaign is succeeding.

But the government is proving woefully unprepared to help the flood 
of users pledging to kick their habits, leaving almost all of them to 
battle addiction largely on their own. The country's meager drug 
treatment facilities have been overwhelmed, creating a new crisis for 
Mr. Duterte as he presses ahead with his violent campaign to rid the 
nation of drug dealers.

On Saturday, after an explosion at a crowded night market killed 14 
people, he declared a national "state of lawlessness," giving the 
military additional powers to carry out police operations, including 
patrolling urban areas, conducting searches, enforcing curfews and 
setting up checkpoints.

But the government is scrambling to expand rehabilitation services to 
keep up with the security measures. There are fewer than 50 
accredited rehabilitation facilities nationwide, and most are already 
full. The country also lacks both doctors who can assess the 
patients' needs and qualified drug counselors.

Among other steps, the government is building rehabilitation centers 
on military bases and organizing seminars to teach patients 
techniques for overcoming addiction, said Dr. Bernardino Vicente, a 
psychiatrist who heads a newly appointed task force charged with 
developing a plan.

"We suddenly got swamped," said Dr. Vicente, who also heads the 
National Center for Mental Health, one of the Philippines' largest 
psychiatric facilities. "It's a crisis, but at the same time, we can 
take advantage of this crisis to help these people."

It could cost billions of dollars to provide treatment for those who 
have come forward, he said.

Those who surrender hope that doing so will give them immunity, but 
that is not always the case. The police say about 15,000 people have 
been arrested and sent to the country's notoriously overcrowded 
jails, most after turning themselves in.

Nor does surrender prevent people from being shot on the street. One 
accused drug lord, Melvin Odicta, known as the Dragon, surrendered to 
the police late last month and was released. Three days later, he and 
his wife, Meriam, were gunned down at a ferry port by an unknown 
assailant. The police denied involvement in the killings.

For most addicts, though, the war on drugs here is a program of catch 
and release.

Local officials and the police have tried to make up for the absence 
of recovery programs by organizing activities such as dance workouts. 
Half a dozen enthusiastic police officers joined the Zumba line at 
Ms. Bongol's class in the Ususan district of Manila, the capital.

While exercise can be a good diversion, addiction experts say, it 
falls short of the help that many drug users need to overcome 
addiction. These experts worry that people who want to give up meth 
have been set up to fail.

"The important thing is when they start to surrender, some of them 
have hope that something will be done for them, and there is 
nothing," Dr. Vicente said. "They will just sit around waiting."

Most illegal drug users in the Philippines smoke shabu, a cheap form 
of methamphetamine that is widely available and highly addictive.

Mr. Duterte says there are 3.7 million users and blames them for an 
epidemic of crime, including rape, robbery and theft. Dr. Vicente 
puts the number at 1.8 million, based on a survey conducted last 
year. The Philippines has a population of about 100 million.

Mr. Duterte began his war on June 30, the day he took office. He had 
promised to kill 100,000 criminals in his first six months and dump 
so many bodies in Manila Bay that the "fish will grow fat."

"If you have friends or family, tell them, 'Don't get into drugs,'" 
he said on Wednesday. "'You will be killed.'"

But the Duterte administration appears to have overstated the number 
of deaths in the drug war.

The national police chief, Ronald dela Rosa, told a Senate committee 
two weeks ago that 1,900 people had died in the campaign. However, 
Dionardo Carlos, the police spokesman, said later that the chief's 
figure had included all unsolved killings. The police now put the 
number of killings at about 1,300, including about 1,000 who they say 
were killed while resisting arrest.

The other 300, Mr. Carlos said, were drug-related killings carried 
out by unknown assailants.

The bloodshed has brought condemnation from the United Nations and 
international human rights groups, and it would have been likely to 
come up at a meeting between Mr. Duterte and President Obama planned 
for Tuesday at a conference of Southeast Asian leaders in Laos.

But on Monday, Mr. Duterte warned Mr. Obama not to ask him about the 
extrajudicial killings, saying he had "no master except the Filipino 
people" and calling Mr. Obama a "son of a bitch." Mr. Obama then 
canceled the meeting.

Martin Andanar, Mr. Duterte's communications secretary, said critics 
in the West should recognize how dysfunctional the Philippine 
judicial process has become. Until now, drug lords prospered under a 
corrupt system, becoming untouchable with the aid of crooked police 
officers and government officials, he said.

"We have a system that's rotten to the core, and we see a new 
president who is willing to reform and revolutionize the entire 
country," Mr. Andanar said. "We voted Duterte to be president because 
we needed a reboot. There will always be an initial disruption. But 
it doesn't mean it's going to stay that way."

He expressed regret over the recent killing of a 5-year-old girl, 
Danica May, one of the youngest victims of the drug war. She was shot 
in the head by an unidentified gunman who was looking for her 
grandfather. He had surrendered three days earlier and had been sent home.

"The government is sad about it, and it cannot be rationalized," Mr. 
Andanar said. "But you have to look at it from a wider perspective. 
Imagine how many kids would be killed if we allowed drugs to 
proliferate in society."

Officials say they are fighting the drug war on two fronts. Some 
police units go after "high-value targets" suspected of dealing in 
large quantities of drugs. Many raids have resulted in suspects' 
being fatally shot.

The second front, officials say, is aimed at getting users and 
dealers to turn themselves in.

Throughout the country, the police have been working with district 
captains - the top elected officials in each neighborhood - to come 
up with lists of suspects. Then they knock on doors, urging users and 
sellers to report themselves to the authorities. In some districts, 
police officers sing their demand like carolers, Mr. Carlos, the 
police spokesman, said. In others, they use loudspeakers and pass out fliers.

The campaign has won support from a large share of Filipinos, 
including drug users who turned themselves in.

Among those attending the Zumba dance program in Ususan was Alma 
Maaliao, 47, a gaunt mother of 11 and recovering shabu addict. She 
said her two-year addiction had helped her focus on her job, washing 
laundry, but made her forget entirely about her children. She is 
happier having quit, she said.

"It's good for people like me," she said. "We want to change."

If it took a death threat, that was all right with her.

"I know the Duterte rules," she said. "I know when he says something, 
he will do it. That's why I surrendered."

Felipe Villamor and Raul Alibutud contributed reporting.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom