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Before the 2016 Philippines elections, we took a trip up the mountains for a shoot. We parked our car at an area that looked like an abandoned subdivision. There were road lots, but no houses. For the shoot, we were using festive dust – corn starch mixed with food coloring – to add to the celebratory effect of the photos. They were contained inside big transparent bags and had different colors like blue, yellow, and red.

While we were shooting, a young kid and his sister followed us around. They must have been living near the area and used the abandoned subdivision as their playground. At first they didn’t pay any attention to the bags of festive dust. They were more amused by the camera and the shoot itself.

Then we started using the dust for effect.  As we were pulling the colorful powder out of the bag, the kid asked, “Unsa na? (What’s that?)” Then he quickly answered his own question, “Ah… Shabu diay. (Crystal meth.)” He must have been around four years old. Suffice to say, we were shocked.

That was the last thing I expected to hear from this cute little kid. I told him quickly that it wasn’t shabu and asked him if he’s ever seen the substance. He said, “Oo… ngadto dapit sa unahan. (Yes… there up ahead.)”

Today, it seems like every day there’s a string of people bringing themselves in for surrender, getting caught red handed in drug busts, and even alleged drug lords and their protectors being called out.

I didn’t realize it then, but our drug epidemic is real.

This video from VICE News is a real eye opener:

Crystal Meth and Cartels in the Philippines: The Shabu Trap

In the VICE Video, when the addict says, he knows it’s bad for him, but he continues to use it, it gives a chilling sense of the inescapable hold these drugs have to its victims.

Take note of the word, victims.

They are in every sense of the word, victims. It’s starting to happen. You can see the decriminalization of drug users all over the world. Addicts are victims of their addiction. They should be treated as such.

The truly scary part of the Vice video is when they started talking to the drug pushers. It angered me when they said they were doing it to make a living. Geez. Get a job bro. Stop poisoning the people. But the truth is they will always be around if there is a demand for drugs like shabu. The only way to truly eradicate these drugs is to stop the demand for them.

This isn’t relegated solely in Manila, but all over the Philippines. Cebu has its own problems with drugs;  high usage of drugs, dirty needles and HIV infections skyrocketing.

The Philippines’ drug problem needs to be addressed. So far the current administration is taking the necessary steps to their promise of no more drugs in “three to six months”. It’s difficult for me to drink the kool aid to that idea, but their efforts are lauded.

I’m wondering when this brute force method of stopping drugs will transform to more elegant solutions of education and rehabilitation. As mentioned, the only way to eradicate these drugs is to stop the demand for them.

It may be all well and good to go after the drug lords and heavy hitters, but when there is demand, it will find a way to people’s hands.

Shouldn’t we be asking the right questions? Why are so many buying this product? What are the causes for this epidemic? We should be asking questions that go to the core of the problem. Stopping a drug lord and scaring the victims will only force dealers to become even better at dealing. As long as there is a demand, it will find a way.

How do we stop this demand?

*Header photo from Vice News.


Carlo Villarica

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