A stoned head of state

Philippine Daily Inquirer - - OPINION - SYLVIA L. MAYUGA

The ti­tle of this com­men­tary popped up from my me­dia col­league Em­mie Ve­larde when an­other “true con­fes­sion” is­sued from the Pres­i­dent’s mouth this week.

Re­fer­ring to his tight sched­ule at the re­cent Asia-Pa­cific Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion Sum­mit in Pa­pua New Guinea, Pres­i­dent Duterte said, “I use mar­i­juana to stay awake.” Like all his barely thought-out state­ments with im­pli­ca­tions on state pol­icy, up blazed an­other so­cial me­dia firestorm for his Palace han­dlers to defuse. The next day came his equally fa­mil­iar state­ment, “I was jok­ing.”

Whether he was or not quickly took se­cond place to an even weight­ier mat­ter than un­der­min­ing his own war on drugs. That mat­ter is pub­lic un­der­stand­ing of why, in the first place, the Philip­pine gov­ern­ment de­fines mar­i­juana as a “dan­ger­ous drug lead­ing to ad­dic­tion and stronger drugs.”

This claim, built on shaky facts preva­lent since the ’70s and im­ple­mented by the Mar­cos mil­i­tary, was not sui generis. Fact is, it was bor­rowed from the United States’ own war against a new gen­er­a­tion protest­ing the Viet­nam War. With their coun­ter­cul­ture’s bat­tle cry (“Turn on, tune in, drop out!”), get­ting stoned on “weed” and re­fus­ing the draft were rites of pas­sage for hip­pies and an­ti­war ac­tivists con­fronting a gov­ern­ment at war with its own young.

His­tory’s wheel con­tin­ues turn­ing. Un­der pres­sure from the Make Love, Not War gen­er­a­tion, le­gal­iz­ing mar­i­juana is trend­ing in Amer­ica, with 10 states and Wash­ing­ton now le­gal­iz­ing, 13 states de­crim­i­nal­iz­ing though not le­gal­iz­ing, and 32 states le­gal­iz­ing med­i­cal mar­i­juana. In 26 other coun­tries, weed is, “if not le­gal, at least su­per chill and le­gal-ish,” ac­cord­ing to thril­list.com’s “The Best Coun­tries Around the World to Smoke Weed.”

With grow­ing re­search, cannabis is more deeply un­der­stood as an or­ganic won­der drug to­day. Who knows? It could be com­ing into its own in a Philip­pines with rich vol­canic soil now earn­ing a rep­u­ta­tion for its pos­si­bil­i­ties as a global mar­i­juana source.

Mer­cu­rial Pres­i­dent Duterte is not im­per­vi­ous to this state of af­fairs, even as his war on drugs and iron hand sup­press­ing hu­man rights con­tinue to pro­voke global up­roar. More in­ter­est­ingly, he him­self can be clas­si­fied an ad­dict to the dan­ger­ous chem­i­cal drug fen­tanyl, man­u­fac­tured in China like the shabu (crys­tal meth) in­gested by thou­sands of vic­tims of his drug war.

The pos­si­bil­ity that he may be in­gest­ing both chem­i­cal fen­tanyl and or­ganic mar­i­juana for pain man­age­ment is ex­plo­sive both to his health and the na­tion’s pol­i­tics. And that a stoned Philip­pine head of state at war with drugs may have in­ad­ver­tently set that in mo­tion—rich irony, in­deed.

———— Sylvia L. Mayuga is an es­say­ist, some­time colum­nist, poet, doc­u­men­tary film­maker and en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist. She has three Na­tional Book Awards to her name.

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