Risa Hontiveros to Duterte: Drug problem is a public health problem

The illegal drug problem in the country is not just a matter of peace and order but more importantly a public health concern, says Senator Risa Hontiveros, who was representative of Akbayan in the lower house of Congress. And because the prevalence of drug trafficking in the country is mostly a public health concern, she is opposed to the return of the death penalty to curb the drug problem.

Hontiveros made this statement in her first privilege speech where she expressed her dissent to the idea that Congress should pass a law that “allows the State to take a life.”

“Instead of showing that there is a way out of the cycle of violence, we teach them that there is no redemption for crime and no hope in sight for going astray by passing a law that allows the State to take a life,” the senator said.

She also addressed the possible plans to lower the age of criminal liability from 15 to 12.

“Yet instead of creating laws that lead to more welfare-enhancing outcomes for our children, we aggressively push for laws that label them criminals younger and younger, that punish them instead of trying to rehabilitate them.” 

This speech came as the death toll in drug-related activities alarmingly increased in the past months since President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office on June 30. The killings emanated from both the legitimate operations of law enforcers and the activities of what some deem to be vigilantes out to summarily execute even those merely suspected of involvement in the drug trade.


Both Senator Hontiveros and Duterte claim to have socialist leanings on their political views which emphasize a pro-people approach to dealing with national problems. However, Duterte served as a government prosecutor for years while Hontiveros is a journalist, and this is probably where their major differences set them apart, some observers note.

Hence, while President Duterte sees the drug problem as a war against the Filipino people by drug dealers and syndicates (thus, the total-war policy against the drug trade) Hontiveros sees it as a mere health problem—perhaps a serious ailment that just needs careful medical treatment, and which she claimed was beginning to be the trend in the world.

“And instead of treating drugs as a public health problem as is increasingly being done all over the world, we view drug addiction through the lens of criminal justice and encourage by cheering on the vigilante killings of drug addicts,” Hontiveros explained.

Moreover, Hontiveros pointed to the developments gained from scientific studies linking illegal drugs use to prenatal and perinatal health problems. This in turn leads to delinquent and, later, criminal behavior. Get rid of the health problems and you get rid of the criminal behavior.

Thus, Hontiveros urged Congress to pass “humane and people-centered” laws to address the drug problem, focusing on public health concerns instead of depending on police and military actions.

She cited the fact that six of 10 Filipinos die without even seeing a doctor for consultation. Plus the fact that about one-third of Filipino children is malnourished from ages 5 to 10. In this connection, she hopes that Duterte would make good his promises on the full implementation of the Reproductive Health Law and the coverage expansion of PhilHealth.

Sources: (,,


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