"The drug menace will remain so long as there is demand."
I have been asking myself why I became a journalist and why I stayed in this profession for nearly seven decades instead of practicing law.
When I was young, I was always fascinated with those Hollywood movies where lawyers would harangue a 12-man jury with arguments on behalf of poor clients.
My Ilocano parents encouraged me to be a lawyer like my two older brothers. I succeeded through hard work and perseverance. My sister became a doctor of medicine.
I succeeded in a small way when I studied law at the old Philippine Law School. This institution produced legal luminaries.
I also became junior partner at a law firm before I got married.
So why did I shift to journalism?
It all started when an Oblate father came to Ateneo asking for volunteers to help at a weekly publication in Cotabato. This was The Mindanao Cross—now a daily.
It had a circulation of 80,000, believe it or not, because it was being distributed to all the Notre Dame schools in Mindanao and Sulu.
Cotabato was then a province as large as Belgium.
In college, I was associate editor of the Ateneo’s school paper, The Guidon. My friend and editor-in-chief, Rudy Tupas, and I volunteered. We learned the rudiments of journalism in Cotabato. I covered all beats from the police to the governor’s office, I also got sued for libel.
After my stint in Cotabato, I returned to Manila to pursue my dreams of becoming a lawyer. But then I was enticed to help in The Sentinel, the publication of the Archbishop of Manila.
After my wedding, I looked for a job and had the opportunity of being business editor of the Madrigal-owned The Philippines Herald. It was one of the Big Three at that time—the others were The Manila Times and The Chronicle.
I stayed on as business editor and then was promoted, and I was soon writing editorials. That was when I realized that the printer’s ink was already in my blood.
I knew journalism would not make me rich. Had I pursued the law, I would have been a wealthy man. But journalism was not just a job—it was a calling, Santa Banana!
My wife calls me a dreamer because I have always believed that as a journalist I can change things, no matter how small.
The Serenity Prayer has always been my guide: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
* * *
President Rodrigo Duterte supposedly offered Vice President Leni Robredo the opportunity to become the drug czarina in reply to her criticism of how the administration is implementing its war against drugs.
Can she expect to do any better?
While I say Duterte has been committing a mistake by treating the drug problem as a peace and order issue rather than one of poverty and health, Robredo misses the point when she criticizes the President.
First of all, will the police obey her?
Everybody knows it is the poor who make up the easiest market for illegal drugs. This is because they go into drugs and soon become pushers to finance their addiction.
Of course there are many wealthy drug users and addicts as well.
Both Robredo and Duterte get it all wrong. The supply of drugs will continue because the demand is there. There are estimates that there are 7 million to 8 million drug users in this country.
What, then, is the solution?
Cut the demand, I say!
During martial law, President Marcos created special courts to deal with the drug problem. It worked then, why not now?
Unless Duterte rethinks the drug menace as a health issue, the problem will persist. My gulay, he can kill all the addicts and pushers, but the problem will still be there.
* * *
Every now and then, we hear about prison inmates dying because of congestion inside the jails. It is easy for them to contract communicable diseases. Also, because of congestion, all sorts of contraband items get smuggled inside.
I have inside information that drug trafficking remains unabated not only at the New Bilibid Prison but also in city and municipal jails.
This is why I have been suggesting to Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra to address the sub-human conditions at the NBP. This can blow up in the face of the administration sooner or later.
Mr. President, please look into the transfer of the NBP to a different location. This can be done—you only need political will.