By By Atty. Romulo P. Atencia
The War on Drugs
posted 25-Jun-2016  ·  
3,990 views  ·   0 comments  ·  

is torture generalized in Mexico, but it is also surrounded by impunity,” said Juan E. Méndez, the United Nations special reporter on torture. “If the government knows it is frequent and you still don’t get any prosecutions, and the ones you do prosecute usually wind up going nowhere, the blame lies with the state.”  In recent weeks, a videotape of a soldier beating a woman while a police officer squeezed a plastic bag over her head went viral, forcing a rare public apology. Even in the case of more than 40 college students who disappeared in 2014, the role of the military, and the protection it enjoys, have become highly contentious. Several soldiers were present the night of the disappearances in Guerrero State, according to international experts asked to help determine the students’ fate. Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, the defense secretary, has publicly defended the military, saying it is the only institution confronting organized crime — and winning.

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The price to be paid for an all-out war against criminality, particularly drug cartels, are killings, forced disappearances, tortures and other violations of civil liberties.  In the years since the Mexican government began an intense military campaign against drug gangs, there surfaced many accounts of people caught at the intersection of organized crime and security forces. They are killed at military checkpoints, vanish inside military facilities or are tortured by federal police officers. Seldom are their cases investigated. A trial and conviction are even more rare. Are these just isolated instances of judicial lapses or a component of an official government policy in its battle against drug violence? In an effort to stamp out criminality, are we changing the concept that one may be deprived of his life, liberty or property only after due process of law? Or are the liberties guaranteed in the Bill of Rights applicable only in times of relative quiet and peace? A eminent legal luminary, David Strauss who graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School, summed it up in the following words: “The Constitution is supposed to be a rock-solid foundation, the embodiment of our most fundamental principles - that's the whole idea of having a constitution. Public opinion may blow this way and that, but our basic principles - our constitutional principles - must remain constant. Otherwise, why have a Constitution at all?”

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Another concern was raised by an officer of the AFP, Col. Gustavo P. Atencia. He expressed a professional soldier's point of view on civilians battling drug criminals: “Ordinary Juan hunting down and gunning down drug pushers? Well..., yeah..., the lowly drug pushers, maybe...., could work, to some degree. But..., the true, blue, professional narco-terrorists? Hmmm...., Mexico, Colombia..., even USA, are trying. Oh yes. The lowly drug pusher has a drug supplier behind him..., who has got a drug distributor behind him..., who's got a true, blue, professional narco-terrorist behind him..., who's got a local network, a transnational drug mafia behind him..., that's got an international narco-terrorist organization behind it..., that's allied with other international narco-terrorist organizations. Resources are almost limitless. Mr. Juan dela Cruz gears-up looking like Rambo and guns down a drug lord to collect a Php5.5M bounty? A drug addict will kill for a gram of shabu/meth. And, he won't need to be loaded like the Italian Stallion. He'll just need a Php35 worth of china-made kitchen knife. Defeating the drug enterprise necessitates total war effort. Total war means....war in several dimensions - psycho-social, political, military, law enforcement, diplomatic, economic. So..., you want to be an anti-drug vigilante? Fantastic! I just hope you're an orphan, unmarried, no children, no relatives...and, most of all, an invincible suicidal maniac with limitless financial resources. Otherwise, let the professionals do it.”

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Leaders of countries at the forefront of the battle against the drug trade should know from experience. They are of the consensus that investing in health care, addiction treatment and alternatives to incarceration would do more to end the drug trade than relying primarily on prohibition and criminalization. “A war that has been fought for more than 40 years has not been won,”  President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia said in an interview. “When you do something for 40 years and it doesn’t work, you need to change it.” Mr. Santos and the presidents of Mexico and Guatemala argue that the war on drugs, which has been largely directed under terms set by the United States, has had devastating effects on their countries. “When two elephants fight, the grass always suffers the most,” President Jimmy Morales of Guatemala said, referring to the drug cartels and American law enforcement agencies.

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