Is religion – the opium of the masses – the most dangerous drug in the Philippines?

The war on drugs have brought some unwelcome publicity to the Philippines

“It’s more fun in the Philippines”, or at least that’s what the tourism slogan used to be, until a few months ago when the Ministry of Tourism decided to change it (and then didn’t).

The reason for the proposed change was that the Philippines had changed, which it has. What they didn’t mention was that seeing men, women and children getting gunned down in the street isn’t all that fun.


Now while the extrajudicial killings have (for the time being) decreased, the rhetoric has not, and if you listen to Duterte, or almost any Filipino (he still has sky-high approval ratings), the problem of the country is drugs.

That’s it, the one problem, drugs. Get rid of drug dealers and suddenly the Philippines will become Singapore.

Except it won’t, because the Philippines doesn’t primarily have a drug problem — its primary problem is poverty, and from this stems all the other problems including prostitution, child abuse, people trafficking and, yes, drugs.


And where does the poverty come from? Leaving aside the fact that the Philippines is an oligarchy controlled by a few families, with the poor living in virtual servitude, lets look at something much more damaging, and more potent than any drug, and that is the all-powerful Catholic Church.

The Philippines has far and wide the biggest population of single mothers in Asia and unsurprisingly, across the world, the nations that tend to have the most single-parent families are other Catholic countries in the Americas.

Filipinos do not get sex education at school, if they’re lucky they get it from their parents. But the chances are, they learn ‘on the job’, with the net result being sexually clueless children getting knocked up by jobless men/children, leaving grandparents to look after the kids while the young mum has to find a job. The only problem is there aren’t any jobs, except for prostitution, or being an oversea worker.


So prostitution, much like drug dealing, tends not to be a job of choice, but poverty breeds necessity. And so hordes of girls flock to places like Angeles City, thus fuelling the sex trade and sex tourism. Now, fun fact kids! Prostitution is illegal in the Philippines, so that means the girls don’t have employment rights, access to healthcare, nor even condoms.

Actually some workers do get these, but it is from their places of employment rather than the state. Legislation has been discussed many times, but (you guessed it) the Catholic mafia has stood against it every step of the way, with their traditional mantra that if you close your eyes problems go away.

Until the Philippines understands that the Catholic Church is the root of most of their problems it’s unlikely the country will improve.

The other option of being an OFW again could warrant its own article, and while many OFW engagements go well, the amount of women that end up trafficked, working in slave-like conditions, abused or dead is scary.

And now onto the “drug problem”. Shabu, an amphetamine style drug, is the main one that is allegedly causing all the problems in the country, analogous to crack or heroin in the west.

The problem is that shabu is a poor man’s drug — the rich continue to use recreational drugs like cocaine or ecstasy — but shabu, like crack or heroin, is an escapist drug. Again, like with the prostitutes, no one turns up at careers day and says they want to be a drug addict or dealer. It is poverty and hopelessness that leads people to drug addiction, and it is the lack of opportunity that leads addicts to sell drugs to others, while those higher up the chain get rich.

So Duterte has decided that drug pushers and users are vermin, and like vermin should be exterminated. Kill the problem and it goes away, which sounds great except these are not rats but people.

Murdering working age men and fathers will leave even more single mothers, which will fuel the sex trade, emigration and poverty. Duterte and Catholic Church might talk like enemies, but in many cases, whether they mean to or not, they work hand in glove to spread poverty.

Filipinos do not like anyone saying anything bad against their country, and nobody wants to admit when their country is going to shit — crab mentality dictates that it’s not your fault, it’s someone else’s.

So when Duterte rode in on his white horse declaring “drugs are the problem”, the people jumped all over it. Just as Hitler had the Jews to blame, pointing the finger at an enemy within while the rich continue to get richer isn’t something new — it’s fascism 101.

A continued campaign of murder will not improve the country, but make the poverty problem much, much worse. I hope in five years I am proved wrong, but I fear history will not absolve President Duterte, and the ever-suffering poor of the Philippines will continue to seek an escape from their misery.

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