Three weeks after President Duterte assumed office in June, 2016, the Philippine National Police (PNP) reported that 8,110 drug users and pushers had been arrested in the period May 10-July 10, while 35,276 had surrendered to the police. This was on top of thousands killed in police operations.
By September, 2016, 26,000 had been arrested, while 730,000 had surrendered. In towns and cities all over the country today, many prisons are filled with arrested and surrendered drug addicts. Even without the drug cases, our prisons were already crowded beyond their capacities.
Prison space is only part of the problem. One provincial governor said the police and judicial systems are heavily overworked. There are not enough prosecutors and judges to attend to the hundreds of new cases.
After all the paper work, the local governments have to provide for the prisoners. Most towns have no ready funds for the food for thousands of new prisoners. And what of the need to rehabilitate the drug addicts? That is an additional expense that is not provided for in their budgets.
After the all-out drive against the drug menace, the Duterte administration is now moving on to other concerns of the nation. The President has now ordered a campaign against illegal gambling.
In the recently approved 2017 National Budget, a total of P850 billion has been set aside for infrastructures to be carried out by the Department of Public Works and Highways and the Department of Transportation. This is the core of an employment program aimed at reducing mass poverty in the country. There are other billions for agricultural development, another pillar of the anti-poverty program.
All these undertakings are welcome for they herald a new era of inclusive economic development for the nation. Government spending should stimulate the private sector to push its own growth programs, so that at the end of this year, we should have an even bigger Gross Development Program (GDP) growth than the 7.1 we had at the end of 2016.
But in all this push for growth and development, let us not forget the thousands of people affected by the administration’s first program of action, the drug addicts who surrendered to the authorities and now need help. Many of them are now detained in local prisons in the care of local governments who need help with their budget problems. In the long run, they will also be needing help for their rehabilitation.