By Corina Oliquino i FilAm Star Correspondent

MANILA – Former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark in an interview with ABS-CBN News on the sidelines of Asian Development Bank’s 52nd annual meeting in Fiji, urged the Philippine government to assess its anti-drug policy by considering a human rights-based campaign against illegal narcotics.

Clark, who is a member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy and former administrator of the United Nations Development Programme from 2009 to 2017, insisted that “criminalizing a human behavior can “drive that behavior underground and that can have very serious health consequences.”

“The way the Philippines has addressed these issues under the current administration has raised many human rights concerns. There has been serious increase in the number of extra-judicial killings, people who have been suspected of being minor dealers or users for example. That worries me very much,” Clark said.

“I hope that the Philippines at some point will be reconsidering that approach and looking for an approach to drugs in the society which is firmly based on human rights principles and the right to lie, being the most fundamental, and also the right to health,” Clark added.

Palace urges foreign countries to understand the anti-drug strategy
While the Philippine government acknowledges the deaths of 5,375 “drug personalities” in police operations since July 2016, human rights group claim the figures are higher due to unresolved killings under the Duterte administration.

In another report by The Philippine Star, meanwhile, Malacañang on May 2, insisted the anti-drug campaign is “anchored on security and public health.”

“We live in a country where the illegal drug industry is a billion-peso industry, where 97 percent of barangays, or small villages, have or had already been infiltrated. Take out the criminal liability of those involved and you induce and encourage others to be part of the dreaded evil,” presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said, noting the drug treatment and rehabilitation will be part of the second phase of the campaign following the establishment of the 10,000-bed drug rehabilitation center in Nueva Ecija and 27 reformation centers.

Panelo noted foreign observers and countries should also understand the country’s strategy in dealing with illegal drugs “before being persuaded by one-sided information and crafting unwise if not cerebrally-challenged commentaries based thereon.”

“The other countries’ experiences in addressing illegal substance while education relative to their method of solving their own drug menace, de-criminalizing the use of drugs in the Philippines will not only aggravate but multiply the problem,” Panelo said.

Panelo’s response follows President Rodrigo Duterte’s strong rhetoric against foreign observers commenting on the anti-drug war, citing the president’s March 2017 slamming of the European Union for asking him to focus the campaign on drug rehabilitation.

“The suggestion of former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark to de-criminalize the use of drugs as an alternative to the drug war, similar to the proposal by the European Union made two years ago, had already been thumbed down by the President,” Panelo said, noting making drug use a criminal act under Philippine laws is necessary to contain the drug problem under the local setting.

He added that the strategy to de-criminalize drug use as implemented by other countries would not work for the Philippines.