The recent State of the Nation Address of President Duterte, where he declared he will pursue his war against drugs in an unrelenting manner, confirms that we have the closest thing to a one-issue presidency. Mr. Duterte himself had on many occasions pointed out that poverty fuels the drug trade while terrorism is partly funded by the drug lords. On this basis, it would appear that the war on poverty should be our primordial concern since it underpins the two other ongoing wars. Nonetheless, the war on drugs has defined our national policy.
In foreign relations we have classified as unfriendly any leader or country criticizing Mr. Duterte’s bloody war on drugs, among them former US president Barrack Obama, former UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, Pope Francis and lately, the European Union. On the other hand, we have claimed as friends leaders like Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin who had not endorsed Mr. Duterte’s war on drugs but simply remained silent on the issue.
A country’s foreign policy is carefully crafted under the doctrine that “politics stops at the water’s edge,” meaning foreign policy should be nonpartisan and have continuity. Territorial integrity and national security are normally nonnegotiable aspects of a country’s foreign policy. However, in our case now this has been traded by Mr. Duterte for Chinese foreign investment. It is doubtful if our succeeding pres- idents will continue this policy; we could lose our claim to the West Philippine Sea under the doctrine of abandonment.
The war against drugs has been an unwinnable war thus far. Even the vaunted United States with its unlimited resources, waging the drug war all over the world, has not won this war. It is doubtful that we will be the first country to win such a war with our limited resources. The war against terrorism can be lost and then won, but with dire consequences in terms of both the loss of human lives and economic destruction. Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Libya and Lebanon illustrate the high cost of terrorists taking over a country and the prohibitive cost of liberating them. To this day, huge chunks of the territories of the countries cited remain under the control of the Islamic State, al-Qaida, Hezbollah or other terrorist groups. An international coalition is helping these countries to rid their borders of terrorists, with very limited success. (This is the reason why we must ignore the militants who advocate that we fight the war on terrorism without foreign assistance, as in the Mamapasano operation). However, the war on poverty is winnable; our Asean neighbors Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam have done far better than us in winning this war.
The war on drugs has thus become an obsession of Mr. Duterte, to the detriment of the two other wars. To alleviate poverty, we need foreign assistance. But several times, we have given up foreign assistance due to concerns expressed by donors over human rights violations in our country. One such recent loss is the withholding of our Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) privilege by the EU. The GSP allows us to export certain products to the EU exempt from customs duties. When we gave up this privilege, we deprive some workers in our country of their livelihood. In addition, all the investments in industries geared toward the EU market will now become idle. Thus, the war on poverty is undermined by the pursuit of the war on drugs.
Two points emphasize the danger of obsession with one issue. It must have taken some time for the terrorists to accumulate the resources they used in the Marawi uprising; nonetheless, they went undetected. What happened there is our intelligence assets must have been over concentrated in the war against drugs, allowing us to get blindsided by the Maute group. Likewise, there will be a ready supply of drug pushers unless we can reduce poverty in the shantytowns.
———— Hermenegildo C. Cruz was Philippine ambassador to the United Nations in 1984-1986. COMMENTARY