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More heat than light at drug conference

HONG KONG (UCAN): While an international gathering held in Manila in the first week of May on different perspectives of the illegal drug trade generated a lot of heat, not much light emanated from the sometimes caustic accusations that were slung at each other by the delegates.
Well known Maria Socorro Diokno, a prominent human rights lawyer from the Free Legal Assistance Group, was highly critical of the Church’s criticism of the Philippine government so-called war on drugs, saying that it does not understand the matter adequately and needed to go beyond its simplistic view.
The daughter of the much respected senator of the 1960s and 1970s, Jose Diokno, said, “The Church needs to understand, because they may be looking at it simplistically.”
She added that many well-meaning Church people fail to distinguish between the user, the abuser and addiction, and dependency.
“For them everybody is one and the same,” the lawyer commented. “It is not true, it is not correct, so I think the Church has to learn more in order to engage and dialogue more.”
An Argentinian priest working in an urban poor community in Manila, Father Luciano Felloni, said the Church needs to work with the government to heal drug addicts.
He was critical of big rehabilitation centres or holding protests against the drug war, as he said that neither will not help solve the drug problem.
“Fighting the government will lead us nowhere. We will suffer a lot if we fight with the government, we will benefit a lot if we work with the government,” he said.
Father Filloni added, “The solution on drugs cannot come from intellectual debate. Too many people talk about drugs without even knowing the name or face of the drug addict. And that’s where our conversation shoots up to the academic level without considering the reality on the ground. Visit the people.”
He had stirred the pot and Agnes Callamard, the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, flared at him. “I think you have a very narrow understanding of academic work,” she snapped back.
“Academics go to the ground, they speak with people, they live with the people,” the UN rapporteur said. “I don’t know where you’re coming from to think that academic work is done somewhere in an ivory tower. That’s not the case.”
While Father Felloni said he was pleased that he had at least got a reaction, he added, “We will never fully agree on all the points. My impression from the ground is that drugs are really a big problem in The Philippines and therefore have to be removed.”
Callamard has been a strong critic of the drug-related killings in the country and her presence caught international attention, especially since she had turned down a government invitation to visit country in September last year.
Without mentioning The Philippines by name, Callamard said, “Badly thought out, ill-conceived drug policies fail to address substantively drug dependency, drug-related criminality and the drug trade.”
She added that wars on drugs do not work, pointing out that there are better options for addressing the issue, but they require the goodwill of all stakeholders in order to craft a drug policy that upholds the rights of people.
The government also took its turn at getting up people’s noses, expressing strong disappointment at seeing Callamard invited to be present at a gathering that it did not have any role in.
Taking the stand that it is the only one that understands the issue, a statement from Malacañang reads, “It has sent a clear signal that she is not interested in getting an objective perspective on the issues that are the focus of her responsibility.”
Callamard retorted that her visit was for purely academic reasons. “I am not here on an official visit. I am here in response to an invitation to participate to an academic conference,” she said in dismissing the government rant.

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