The time for blaming is over

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Street Talk

By GREG B. MACABENTA

Maybe President Rodrigo Duterte has now realized that his vow to end the drug menace in three months…,make it one year…no, no, make it up to the end of his six year term…was all bluster. Kayabangan.

Duterte has finally admitted that, in spite of his iron fisted approach to solving the drug problem, it has become worse.

Maybe the DDS – Die-hard Duterte Supporters – now also realize that they fell prey to the sweet talk and soaring promises of a virtual used car salesman, a professional politician who, as Sara Duterte put it bluntly, lied – just like all politicians.

So now, what?

The drug problem still exists. That’s what. Does the problem get solved by blaming Duterte for his bluster? No. Blaming the Master of Bluster doesn’t solve the problem.

And whose problem is it anyway? Duterte’s? Hell no. It’s everyone’s problem.

It’s a problem of the entire country. It’s a problem of every family with members who could fall prey to a pusher.

If Duterte can’t solve the problem on his own – as he apparently admits he cannot – shall we leave things at that and follow the advice of that demented politician who suggested that if rape is inevitable, you should just lie back and enjoy it?

I’m reminded of the classic story of Matsushita Electric and how, when the company was nearing collapse, the chairman called a meeting of all the managers. When they met, everyone wept. After that, the chairman declared, “The time for weeping is over. The time for work has begun.” And with that, the company went on to dramatic recovery and spectacular success.

Whether or not this urban legend is true, the lesson that it teaches should apply to the current problem with drugs. The time for finding blame should be over.

The time for solving the problem together should begin.

Crucifying Duterte for his bluster will get our country nowhere. Neither will telling him to give up. We should all hope that he will continue fighting the drug menace. But this time, we should all hope that he will realize that his killing fields method isn’t the only solution to the problem.

We should all hope that Duterte will now shed his armor of arrogance, put on the cloak of humility and listen to those who have other ideas, other methods, other solutions.

But Duterte should continue leading the fight. He is the president and he has at his command the resources needed to combat the drug menace. But he cannot do it alone. And neither can Ronald Bato, who has apparently decided that it’s easier to run for senator than fight the drug lords.

I think we owe it to ourselves to rally behind Duterte and the authorities and help fight the drug menace.

Perhaps, we can start with a line that I wrote for an anti-drug abuse problem that I created back in the early70’s:

“Help fight drug abuse. The junkie you save may be your own.”

Before President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in 1972, the drug menace had already grown to alarming proportions.

It wasn’t just a problem of the impoverished many. It was also a threat to the wealthy few. The exclusive schools in Metro Manila were being invaded by pushers. Children of prominent families were being caught in the snare of the pushers.

It was at that point when my late boss, Tony de Joya, who was at the time president and chairman of Advertising & Marketing Associates (AMA), was asked to help. Tony and parents of students in the exclusive schools set up a group called Parents Organizations of the Philippines.

The group decided on a massive public information campaign to create awareness of the seriousness of the problem of drug abuse. AMA was harnessed pro bono and I happened to be assigned to lead the creative team that would put together the campaign.

I thought I was a street smart kid, having gotten into the typical misadventures of juveniles and having spent years in the movie studios, but I had never had any experience with drugs. I didn’t know where to start.

Typically, the ideas that I translated into ads seemed like homilies, i.e, don’t do this, don’t do that, drugs are bad, etc. etc. With the help of two brilliant creative associates, Pete Cura and Bambi Borromeo, we tested these initial attempts with kids who were into pot.

The ads were meaningless to them. The lectures and sermons did not resonate.

We learned our first lesson in addressing the drug problem. Get at the source.

As a parent of four growing children, I also realized that my own family was vulnerable. I had learned that pushers were operating in our neighborhood. It was not just somebody else’s problem. It was my problem and that of my wife. And we had to take responsibility for addressing it.

Indeed, the first line of defense against the drug menace is the home.

Realizing this, my revised ad struck at the very root of the problem, with the headline. “Is a pusher paying more attention to your child than you are?”

For a blurb, I added: “Get to know your friendly neighborhood pusher..and turn him in before he turns you on.”

I think that execution resonated with the parents. So did another ad that I wrote with the headline: “One dope deserves another. If you want your kid to stop doing his thing, you can begin by stopping yours.”

The main illustration showed a teenager smoking pot, seated beside his drunken father, holding a bottle of gin. That also resonated.

As we worked on the campaign, we realized that we could not count on a one-size-fits-all execution. There were pot users. But there were also those into uppers and downers. And there were the hard core addicts who were shooting heroin. For the last I created an ad with the headline, “Para sa kaunting sarap, saksakan ng hirap.”

And there were those who were “graduating” from one type of drug to a deadlier one.

“The Graduate,” a TV commercial that I wrote to address this, had film legend Lamberto V. Avellana and drama coach Sarah K. Joaquin doing the narration:

“Joji Mercado…graduated from marijuana to LSD and then to heroin. Yesterday, he died of an overdose. How many more young people will graduate like him?

It’s up to you. Help fight drug abuse. Remember, the junkie you save may be your own.”

Yes, we can all help fight drug abuse. By starting with our own families, by paying more attention to our kids, and by stopping our “thing” if we want our kids to stop theirs.

Admittedly, this is not the only solution to a terrible menace. But it is something that everyone can apply – without having to shed blood.

One more thing I learned about fighting drug abuse. It’s not enough to tell your kids “not to do this and not to do that.” So, what would you have growing, restless, hyper-active and adventurous kids do?

In my family’s case, we set up a gym in our garage and I took up physical fitness in the hope that our three boys and one girl would follow suit. They did.

And not just them but their friends as well.

None of them ever fell prey to the friendly neighborhood pusher. Our children are all parents now and they are paying more attention to their kids than any lousy, rotten pusher can.

(gregmacabenta@hotmail.com)

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