Half A Million Drug Users Surrender To Duterte’s Officials, Many Sent To Zumba Classes, No Resources For Rehab

The Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte began an initiative during his first week of office that called for drug addicts to turn themselves in as he sought to go to war on the prevalence of drug use and trafficking in his nation. Authorities now state that the response by the drug users who answered the president’s call has been overwhelming with over 600,000 admitted drug users flooding the offices of the government and police stations to register their names.

It seems that the government was also unprepared as there are only 14 public rehab facilities in all of the Philippines and even less private facilities. Most of the said facilities were already filled to capacity prior to the call to surrender. Officials have therefore been forced to find alternatives. One example of this involved sending meth addicts to take compulsory Zumba classes.

Duterte has earned international attention for his violent war on drugs which has left 1,400 people dead within the three months that he has been in office. The deaths were a result of either police operations or vigilantes. Those who surrendered did so as a means to avoid this same fate.

The administration under Duterte considers the operation, even the number of dead, to be a success. One hundred days following the start of his presidency, the program that had been intended as a means to force drug addicts into treatment or face the possibility of death from the barrel of a gun, now shows that the president’s war on drugs has limited effectiveness due to lack of resources for treatment and rehabilitation.

The decisions as to what those who surrender will be asked to do as a form of rehabilitation for their drug use seems to be falling on the barangay leaders, which are small units of government. For example, Barangay 197, which is a district in Pasay City, is a poor neighborhood. Within this specific barangay, authorities have decided that hard work is the solution. Councilman Jaime Abasola shares what work those who surrendered are responsible for in the community, as PRI shares.

“So far, we have a project for the surrenderees to work in the canteens of our district. We give them a chance to have a new life. So we can reduce illegal drug use.”

The issue is, however, that treating addictions requires more than just a shift of focus or keeping the user busy. Abasola admitted this and stated that what the individuals who have surrendered really need is a step-by-step program. The government provides him with no funding and very little guidance on how to deal with the meth abuse. Abasola even admitted that he cannot produce any of his barangay’s surrendered addicts because many have since gone into hiding.

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The official also admitted that he does not agree with tactics used by Duterte, which have claimed the lives of individuals in his community. One example is a man Abasola knew well, Luisito Boja, a drug user. He was a victim of Duterte’s door-to-door clearing of suspected drug dealers and addicts known as Oplan Tokhang. A week ago, three masked men on motorcycles entered Boja’s home in the middle of the night and pulled him out of bed. The men then shot him in front of his two young children.

“They should have just arrested him. They could have left him to fester in prison for a few years. This was a person’s life. I feel pity for the family, especially the children.”

It’s such stories that have people completely terrified. One other witness of such events admits that he is afraid to speak of the incident involving Boja for fear he may also lose his life, stating that every time he hears a passing motorcycle, he tenses up.

[Featured Image by Bullit Marqiez/AP Images]