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Poverty is the best drug pusher

There was Jonathan, a 16-year-old teenager from a broken home where love no longer held a family together. Poverty that kept food from the table and from the mouths of his brother and sisters.

Jonathan saw the last of his father as he stormed out of their shanty by a river in the Philippine capital, drunk on cheap liquor to numb the pain of failure. He was a jobless man, fired by a corrupt boss. He was a useless, broken man, his dignity taken from him.

Jonathan dropped out of school to find work. But there was no job without a high school diploma. Only the local drug pusher would have him to sell his illegal stuff for him.

A few of the crystal grains gave his body a lift from depression and misery, banished the hunger pains from his empty stomach and alleviated the pain of being poor. Poverty is the best drug pusher of all time.

Jonathan was a distributor of a medication that could anaesthetise the pain of the poverty-stricken people of the slums. Crystal meth, or shabu, brings a short-lived hour or so of happiness and forgetfulness. It brings a spurt of energy allowing people to work longer and ease the body pain.

But the fleeting moments of paradise give away to more misery and the craving for the bliss of forgetfulness morphs into agony. The real need is for help and a second chance at life.

There is nothing new in this. The coca leaf chewing indigenous people of Bolivia get the same lift in enduring the hardship of mountain living and exhausting work.

For the poor and the slum dwellers the government provides no escape, offers no hope, no future or salvation from the scrapheap of sadness. The poor have no help to ease the pain or heal the wounds of a life without purpose.

The rich and the rising middle class sniff the crystal meth and other illegal drugs in their plush homes and high-rise apartments. The filth and wretchedness they leave far below and see no need to pity the poor who are struggling to survive.

For the irresponsible moneyed class, the poor are the no-bodies of this world. Jobless, hungry and sick people are looked upon as the wretched of the earth and the dirt of humanity.

The top of the economic pile ignores them, offers no hand of mercy or opening for escape. For some poor, crystal meth is their only escape. It gives moments of ease from their burden.

Jonathan saw meagre earnings, just enough to buy a kilogramme of rice, a can of sardines and a handful of vegetables. It was food for the fatherless family.

His customers were equally poor. There was Benny, a pedicab driver who pedalled 50 kilometres a day for what seemed like a pittance. He didn’t own anything besides his T-shirt, shorts and worn down flip-flops from a garbage tip.

He needed a sniff of shabu to go that extra hour and bring home his half-kilogramme of rice and vegetables for the family to stop the little one crying.

And then it started. Word went out they were useless criminals with shrunken brains without rights or dignity. They were to be eliminated, eradicated, massacred.

The killers, dressed in hoods, came in cars and hit the hovels with guns drawn and ordered the pedicab drivers to lie face down. 

They shot them dead and Benny was one. Now no one brings rice and vegetables and the baby cries with hunger.

Then the motorbikes roared down a narrow alley and Jonathan was the target. They killed him too with an assassin’s shot to the head. 

His mother screamed and his brothers and sisters cried for a week. They still do when there is no rice.

In the hovel beside the stinking Pasig River, a cesspool of filth and dirt, he lay in a plywood box. The river flowed on through the city of death where 4,000 have been killed and the toll is still rising. Jonathan was just one more gunned down on suspicion of a crime. He had no chance to plead his case.

It was always a hard life in the slums where death comes slowly through malnutrition and disease, but now Manila is a city of sudden death. A relief say some, as each body is carried away in a plastic bag and well-fed citizens applaud and cheer the killing spree, saying well done. There is blood upon their hands.

We are now seeing the death of the dignity in this once proud nation that stood as best it could for rights and freedom. Dignity dies a little day by day, lost in the fog of a war-on-drugs—just another rule by fear.



 • Father Shay Cullen