Senate bets: Review or stop Duterte drug war

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 31) — Four senatorial candidates on Sunday called on the government to either review or put an end to its bloody war on drugs.

During CNN Philippines' seventh senatorial forum, aspirants Bernard Austria and Sonny Matula said President Rodrigo Duterte should stop the controversial ant-drug campaign, while Joan Sheelah Nalliw and Willie Ong said otherwise.

They were not allowed to explain their answers during the yes or no portion but were later given the chance to discuss the drug war, most of them tackling the killings.

Nalliw called on the government to review its approach, stressing that the death of drug suspects has not solved the problem.

"Marami na nga pong nangamatay subalit nandyan pa rin po yung problema natin sa droga. Therefore, ito ba ay epektibo? Hindi. So let's try another approach," Nalliw, a lawyer and former teacher, said.

Another candidate, labor lawyer Sonny Matula wants the creation of a "high-level commission" to investigate drug war killings, and urged the government to look into its drug campaign now.

"Dapat tingnan uli ng gobyerbo ang programa nito dahil marami ang mga collateral damage dito… Yung mga inosente ay nadadamay," he said.

More than 5,000 drug suspects have been killed in police operations, according to government data. But local and international human rights groups say President Rodrigo Duterte's public pronouncements have resulted in thousands more extrajudicial killings, a claim Malacañang has repeatedly denied.

Bernard Austria, a former consultant for the Office of the Presidential Adviser for Special Concerns and the National Anti-Poverty Commission, urged the government to protect the rights and dignity of drug users.

"Sila ay biktima dito, hindi sila dapat pinapatay," he stressed.

He said the government should instead guard the country's ports, noting that the Philippines is used as a transshipment point for drug smuggling.

"Dapat ireview natin yung approach. Paano natin pipigilin yung paglaganap ng droga dito? Dapat doon tayo sa supply side. Bantayan natin ang ating mga daungan," he said.

Meanwhile, Physician Willie Ong reminded the administration that the drug problem is a health concern, and not just a criminal problem. He pushed for the rehabilitation of drug users, at the same time called for more medical experts and medicines to treat them.

"Ang problema sa rehabilitation centers natin kahit six months na sila nandoon, maraming nagre-relapse, bumabalik uli sa droga. Kulang tayo sa psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, gamot. Kailangan maganda ang gamutan sa kanila," he said.