Organized by the UNODC Philippines Country Office
Lee Yarcia, Legal Expert, UNODC Philippines: Thank you all for joining us today. My name is Lee Yarcia and I’ll be your moderator. On October 7th 2020, the Human Rights Council adopted Resolution No. 45/33, providing for technical cooperation and capacity building for the promotion and protection of human rights in the Philippines, which created the UN Joint Programme for Human Rights in the Philippines or the UNJP. This is an innovative model with the Philippine government, together with civil society and the international community who will work together to improve further the human rights situation in the country.
One of the critical work areas determined is the human rights-based approach to drug control. Today, we will listen to our panellists from the government and civil society on ongoing work and ways forward for the UNJP’s drug thematic component in line with the 2018 UN Common Position and the 2019 Ministerial Declaration on Drugs.
To formally start our side event, we request our UNODC Director of the Division for Policy Analysis and Public Affairs, Mr Jean-Luc Lemahieu to take the floor.
Jean-Luc Lemahieu, Director of the Division for Policy Analysis and Public Affairs, UNODC: It’s really a pleasure to be here with you today, especially on this topic which fills me with much pride in the undertaking of UNODC jointly with so many others including the government of the Philippines themselves who has given us good guidance and lead in moving this forward. So my gratitude for that.
It’s often not known how much we at UNODC do undertake already in human rights issues. And it’s easily overlooked because we have such a wide area of activities. If you talk about the overall mandate of UNODC, we are dealing with anti-terrorism, anti-corruption, transnational organised crime, human trafficking, cybercrime, criminal justice system, crime prevention, and then finally drugs. And within the drugs as well, you have such a wide area of different aspects. So it’s often been forgotten how much we do and how much the human rights issues have been interlaced in our programme and how little visibility we are getting on that one. So this programme is and should be receiving good visibility because it is indeed a nice innovative way of moving forward.
It is my pleasure to welcome you all to the side event hosted by you only to see and the United Nations Joint Programme for Human Rights in the Philippines, or UNJP. This side event aims to share the good practice on the implementation at the country level of the UNGASS 2016 operational recommendations and the 2019 Ministerial Declaration. Both the operational recommendations and the Ministerial Declaration underpins the very important global commitment to support the development and implementation of policies that put people, health, and human rights at the centre of our balanced comprehensive collective efforts in the context of drugs. We, as the UN, provide support to Member States and seek international coordination. We have done that to our UN common position within the UN, which guides us in moving closer together and working closer together within the UN system. We try to do that in many aspects of the comprehensiveness of the UNGASS framework, and we determine to minimise the adverse public health consequences to prevention, demand reduction, rehabilitation and multiple other related messages, such as there are harm reduction in a continuum, but as well the need to find and promote alternatives to conviction and punishment, including revisiting national legislations pertaining to drug use and possession and the problem of prisons overcrowding. We know that this is a work which has been done not only within the drug sector but in the criminal justice framework as well. We have the Bangkok, Tokyo, and Mandela Rules, which clearly states that on prisons, there’s much work to be done to make them far more humane and to implement the human rights aspects within that framework.
Now today is a special day because we have a rather special initiative here and proud that we’re part of it. We will listen to the Philippine experience of promoting a human rights based approach to drugs. And as you are aware of, from 2021 to 2024, the Philippine government, together with its Commission on Human Rights and through the joint efforts of various UN agencies, including UNODC as a lead, but as well the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, UN Women, UNAIDS, WHO under the leadership of the UN Resident Coordinator, and not to forget the civil society, all contributing to this UNJP. So it is indeed an innovative model. We have mobilised a wide variety of partners together in crafting public health centred and human rights based responses to drug related issues and concerns, ensuring indeed that we have the balanced and comprehensive approach asked for by UNGASS 2016 and the 2019 Ministerial Declaration. Enough said for my parts. I will be as eager as many as you to hear more about this initiative and to hear what are the lessons learnt and how could we replicate that in other contexts in other countries. How can we make that progress, which we have now instilled within the Philippines as a model as well, which we could then re-oriented in different contexts in other countries.
Lee Yarcia, Legal Expert, UNODC Philippines: Our first presenter today is Dr Beverley Ho from the Department of Health. She sits as the Health Department’s representative at the UNJP.
Dr. Baverly Lorraine Ho, Assistant Secretary, Department of Health, the Philippines: I inherited the substance use portfolio late last year together with our team within the DOH, and we are closely working with our fellow government agencies to redirect our efforts on substance use first following the directives of our current administration as well.
From the health side, three critical health legislations were passed in recent years and these frame our overall directions towards a public health approach strategy to implement health for all and attain health equity. These are the HIV Act in 2017, Mental Health Act in 2018, and the Universal Health Care Act in 2019. All of these laws already espouse people centred approach, highlight the need for community led efforts and emphasise shared accountability amongst different sectors. Moreover, provisions in these legislations clearly reflect the basic principle that health is a human right. And in this context, the health sector should not only be limited to treating the sick or deceased, but catalyse efforts to address conditions that bring people back the reasons they got sick in the first place. The Department of Health Strategy in this medium term, 2023 to 2028 is summarised in these four pillars of our health sector strategy. First is enabling people to be healthy. Highlighting the need for improved health literacy and healthy settings – schools, workplaces and communities that promote health and healthy governance – and addressing social while also combatting commercial determinants to health. Second pillar is protecting the population from risk, whether communicable, noncommunicable or injuries brought about by natural or manmade conditions.Third is caring for those who need the services by shifting our overmedicalised system towards strengthening primary care while continuing to improve other speciality care services. And finally, strengthening our institutions. And supporting the health workforce by providing responsive structures and capacity building programmes. Additionally, we seek to move away from oververticalisation that is typically the hallmark of public health programmes with a lot of development partners support, towards a more integrated, implementation friendly approach. Operationally, this means organising ourselves to dedicate a sufficient level of effort for interagency or intersectoral work, breaking down deceased based silos within the ministry and adopting cross-functional themes. These enforced strategic pillars and integration guide how we will approach our work on substance use moving forward as what we’ve started doing for other public health programmes and risk factors. Substance use will as much as possible be grouped along tobacco and alcohol, especially in the prevention and control of supply and demand of these substances encouched within our mental health portfolio as it relates to managing disorders and other ill effects due to substance use independence.
So what does this mean for us? More concretely, here are the areas we wish to work on. First, dedicated efforts will be directed towards health promotion initiatives in various settings, such as community schools and workplaces. In the short term, we plan to develop a joint playbook with the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) on community-based interventions spanning the entire cycle of care. We now have separate programmes for separate agencies which of course is challenging to implement by our local government units, thinking that these are different programmes but are in fact actually have to be working together. We will use newly formed healthy learning institutions and healthy workplace platforms we have. Maybe for other countries, this is already quite a mature type of portfolio for you, but not yet for the Philippine health system. So for primary level schools specifically, we seek the scale up work done on parent education and engagement and peer to peer support. Second is to build on existing efforts on democratisation of mental health services through primary health care approach to enable timely screening diagnosis and possibly referral to higher levels of care. The most critical aspect of this entails building the confidence and competence amongst our professional and community health workers to take care of the medical needs, but to work in synergy with social workers to provide the most responsive wraparound services to those in need. We have managed the roll out WHO Mental Health Gap Action Programme (mhGAP) to as much as 70% of our primary care providers in the country already. There’s no reason we’re not able to do this for substance use. A critical next step will be to see how we can adapt or adopt UPC and UTC to serve this purpose. Third, Improving access, availability and quality of specialist care for moderate and severe substance use disorder patients. On quality, we will tap our National Practice Guidelines Consortium, also created under our Universal Health Care Act, to develop and publish our country’s practice guidelines for substance use reflecting global evidence and local context. This should guide medical practitioners in the country to adhere to the latest evidence base but I think more importantly, this should inform amendments in our existing legislation related to treatment protocols, provider standards, alternatives to residential rehab protocols and incarceration. On access and availability, we will build on existing facilities we have to provide outpatient services and potentially tap existing national and provincial hospitals to dedicate a clinic for this, avoiding the need to build more inpatient or residential facilities and further working with other partners to link medical services to social services. Fourth, there’s so much work that needs to be done and we need many hands on deck. We capitalise on the support from our multilateral and development partners, and we open ourselves up the new collaborations and new partners. We will engage the academia by building on our current grant to the Philippines National Institute of Health to set up an institute for health promotion for local evidence generation. This should also benefit our work on substance use. As for civil society organisations, we hope to harness the strength of our anti-tobacco, HIV/AIDS and mental health champions towards having substance use as probably their twin advocacy. It is also quite timely that we will begin accrediting and giving grants to civil society organisations beginning next year. Fifth, because we will not be able to manage what we don’t measure or what we don’t measure accurately, we seek to build on the gains during the pandemic that led to significant increase investments for epidemiology and surveillance and health statistics in the country. As a health concern, our data should be integrated into health information systems and how much can we build on our very own HIV/AIDS registry that we have for this type of work, for example. And finally, no one, not even the DOH, will claim to have monopoly of all knowledge, let alone new cutting edge knowledge on what works. This is why, pending the amendment of our current legal framework, we will strongly support research initiatives that will allow us to test new proposals at the local level, which will allow us again to move along the spectrum in a way that is driven not just by experience, but by evidence and effectively scale what current working models we have.
In summary, we approach our work with confidence because we know our partners are going to be with us, but also with a lot of humility, because we recognise that all systems in the world are learning or relearning and paradigm shifts are never easy. We hope all of you as partners in this room and online will lend the support needed through the Philippines, especially the Philippine Department of Health, as we fulfil our role in the public health approach to substance use challenge in our country. Maraming Salamat.
Lee Yarcia, Legal Expert, UNODC Philippines: Our next speaker is our CSO representative at the UNJP, Ms Maria Inez Feria, who is the Founder and Executive Director of NoBox Philippines.
Ma. Inez Feria, Founder and Executive Director, NoBox Philippines: As NoBox Philippines, we sit in the technical working group on drugs or officially the human rights-based approach to the control, only one of the six focus areas under the 3-year UN Joint Programme, of which we have 16 months left. Last November, we participated in the first UNJP strategic planning exercise where we enjoyed the space for an open discussion with government representatives, including DOH, DSWD, DILG, BJMP, DOJ, CHR and the DDB who is the co-chair of our technical working group together with UNODC. I mentioned this because it was sitting in this meeting that it reinforces how the UNJP is really a platform that we need to optimise. It’s an opportunity. So it was three days of amicable and respectful exchange within the TWG that gave us a glimpse of the potential and promise of the joint programme as it was intended to be, while also highlighting the challenges and the challenging context that we need to be honest about to navigate and to address. So there were four strategic objectives that came out from the strategic planning. One, which is what I will zero in today, and that is on working towards the increased availability and voluntary access to a range of appropriate and human rights based and scientifically informed services that include health, social and developmental support for persons whose lives include drugs. The idea is to inform ourselves and to be able to scale this up and institutionalise it as a national policy. In a stigmatised and often ideologically driven issue as drugs, this is a load of terms that need to be unpacked and carefully defined.
How would a genuinely community driven response look like? One that is respectful of the rights and range of realities of the drug experience. One that is comprehensive and truly integrated. That’s what Dr Bev had mentioned and truly supported, so that people benefit and no one falls through its cracks and that no one is placed in greater harm. Since 2016, programmes in local communities have mushroomed in response to the tens of thousands of individuals who were forced to report themselves to local government in the supposedly to be receiving good help. Having programmes and services accessible in locality is really a good thing but it’s important that these services are not dictated and forced on people with no understanding of what people need. And that if they are coerced into access under threat, regardless of relevance and benefit, is forced. And that brings me now to Goal 1, so that’s the situation and so what do we do now? The idea now is to show what community based, community driven response should look like. And that’s a very difficult because we’re not just dealing with the design of services, we’re also dealing with how people are thinking around drugs and people whose lives include drugs. So under the joint programme, part of the work plan activities is to actually have pilot areas where we will be able to design this comprehensive, integrated system of services. It’s not so much prescriptive except to align them to what rights based should be. But also it actually asks a lot of questions and forces us to ask a lot of questions that we need to be asking. So if it’s community led, what does it mean? How does that look like? What does it mean in terms of how we respect people whose lives include drugs? When we talk about range of services, what are the services? How will we be able to provide them? How are they going to be integrated with each other so that people would be able to receive the services they need. What does voluntary access mean? Because contrary to common thinking, people do come and access services when the environment is welcoming and supportive. What do we say when you say appropriate because appropriate for whom and when? So these are a lot of questions that we’re hoping to be able to at least have some answers to when we do the pilot areas. So this will start with a dialogue and training on compassionate pragmatism and the principles of harm reduction two months from now. Because with this, it inherits respect and value for health and human rights. The idea is to be able to have the local government units participate here, to be able to expose them to what can be. We have a short period so we will be done in in a little over than a year. But part of what we’ll be doing is to do participatory action research, also to better inform us, to really understand how we can improve the services in the context in which all of these are happening. What are the conditions that would allow, for example, for a better uptake of the principles that we are going for? How do we reflect the community experience? How do we include the community in the design of these programmes and services? Because that is a novel idea when it comes to the Philippines at the moment. Part of the work also that we’re working for and pushing is to develop … mechanisms. It goes back to how we think about people whose lives include drugs, because when something goes wrong, it becomes always as if it’s their fault. So the idea is to be able to let people know how they can access these mechanisms. It’s not enough to see that it’s there. We need to understand, as from the consultations, so that they would be informed and be able to access to services. So these are all plans and that that we are kind of anchoring our hope on.
But at the same time, one thing that needs to be addressed and we need to discuss further is when we have all these plans and the pilot programmes, how do we create the context in which we can make this possible? How can it be voluntary if the context is not provided for voluntary access and is forced. It’s very critical, for example, for the pilot areas for us to have safe zones and what are the safe zones? Safe zones means that people are not arrested for drug use. People will not be placed on list if they continue to be using. They are not cut from the services. So these are things that need to be worked through still. People should not be threatened nor punished for continuation of use. So there is much work that needs to be done, as has been mentioned. We’re moving, but really very slowly. So I’m really scared that we’re finishing in July 2024, but because there’s a lot that needs to be done, we need to appreciate these questions that we need to be asking and seek answers to. We need to understand what rights human rights based approach to drugs mean, because it’s not always clear when it comes to provision of services. Our commitment as civil society is solid so we’re also looking to the to the government for their proactive and continuous commitment. There has to be strong and consistent. As I said, the wheels are slow. So the question now is how do we sustain these initial and promising efforts and to ensure that these efforts go beyond 2024.
Lee Yarcia, Legal Expert, UNODC Philippines: Many thanks for sharing the work of the UNJP and the urgency of really transforming the vision into something that is meaningful to the communities. Our next presenter is Attorney Julie Ann Regalado from the Commission on Human Rights.
Attorney Julie Ann Regalado, Philippine Commission on Human Rights: I will be sharing with you our directions and ongoing work on jail and prison reform for persons deprived of liberty. The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) under the Philippine Constitution is mandated to exercise visitorial powers over jails, prisons, and detention facilities. CHR’s visitorial power was strengthened by special penal laws such as the Anti-Torture Act and the Anti-Enforced Disappearance Act, which essentially state that CHR is authorised to conduct independent unannounced and unrestricted visits to all places of detention and confinement. Recently, with the passage of our Mental Health Act, CHR was also given the mandate to inspect mental health facilities to ensure that service users are not being subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading conditions or treatment. In the exercise of visitorial powers, CHR refers to the Mandela Rules, the Bangkok Rules, and other human rights instruments. In recognition of its international obligations, the government is expected to take constitutional actionable steps.
However, based on the results of our monitoring visits, prison conditions across the country fall short in compliance with the standards. And here are some of our findings. Congestion remains a major problem in the deprivation of liberty, leading to insufficient accommodation for PDL. Based on the September 2022 report of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP), 71% of the total number of jails in the country is congested. The average congestion rate of BJMP jails is 270%. In the Bureau of Corrections, the agency in charge with the cost of rehabilitation of offenders who have been sentenced to three years of imprisonment or more reported average of 214% congestion rate in the 2020 data. Aside from congestion, there are issues with lack of basic needs provision for the inmates – food, drinking water and gender specific needs – poor sanitation and ventilation, lack of healthcare support and lack of programme for PDL who have limitations in the integration. These issues are related to congestions as most facilities are not able to keep up with the increasing number of incarcerated individuals due to the limited resources and capacities. It is also worth noting that a large number of the PDLs for both bureaus comprise of drug related cases. In BJMP, and 69% of the detainees are charged with drug cases. In the Bureau of Corrections, 29% of the population are PDL who have committed crimes related to drugs. Delays in the justice system is also considered a prevalent problem amongst the PDL. Some of the recurring concerns that PDL have shared with CHR are low disposition of cases, frequent postponement and resetting of hearings, lack of information as to the status of cases, delayed issuance of commitment order for transfer of jail facilities, and provision of counsel for those who have none. CHR have also noted other concerns that affect the welfare of PDL, such as deaths in custody, riots in places of deprivation of liberty, torture, and other forms of cruel, inhumane, degrading treatment and punishment, granting good conduct time allowance and addressing sector specific needs.
In response to these concerns, the government has undertaken steps towards fulfilling the state’s obligation to treat all prisoners with respect for the inherent dignity and value as human beings. In 2020, the Supreme Court issued several administrative circulars to decongest jails and prisons facilities amid the COVID 19 crisis. This includes guidelines on electronic filing information and transmission of release orders, guidelines on the release of qualified PDL to self-reconnaissance and provisional remedies, pilot testing of video conferencing for urgent matters and criminal cases involving PDL and imposition of reduced bail and reconnaissance for PDL pending the continuation of their trial or resolution of their cases. In 2022, the Supreme Court issued another circular, which states that a PDL who has completed their sentence and has no other reason for incarceration should be released immediately from the jail facility. Before the end of 2022, the Supreme Court’s Committee on Human Rights vowed to push through with the approval writ of Kalayaan to help address the country’s problem with jails. The writ of Kalayaan is envisioned as an extraordinary legal remedy that a person deprived of liberty can invoke when there is an extreme need for reliefs, given the poor conditions of jails or health factors. A technical working group has been convened by the Supreme Court to draft the rules of the writ of Kalayaan. As a result of the government jail decongestion efforts, at least 103,000 PDL were released by BJMP in 2022. It was also reported that the Department of Justice was able to fast track the processing of the release of qualified prisoner by digitalising the systems of the probation and parole administration, resulting to the release of 3,000 inmates from July to December 2022. Aside from decongesting jails and prisons facilities, the Bureau of Corrections and the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology are also working with the Commission on Human Rights to improve the condition of jail facilities. Last December, the CHR and BuCor entered into a memorandum of agreement for the purpose of designating human rights officers and reviewing the BuCor programmes and practices to ensure that they are aligned with human rights norms and standards. The same MOA is being proposed by the Commission on Human Rights and BJMP.
It cannot be denied that the current situation and condition of PDL need so much space for improvement. This is particularly true in relation to issues of congestion, availability of basic necessities like water and sanitation, access to justice and programme for PDL. The overcrowding and congestion of facilities cannot be addressed without recognising the impact of government’s anti-drug campaign, as well as the concomitant delays in the delivery of justice. It is therefore recommended that aside from ensuring respect for human rights and rule of law in all drug related operations, solutions to substance use should focus on mental health services and education. Further, the use of non-custodial alternatives to incarceration and community based measures should also be studied and options for low risk, non-violent and non-serious offenders. There is also an urgent need to ensure that PDL have access to justice. A speedy disposition of cases should be given priority, especially for the elderly and the ailing, and consistent review of cases for eligibility of PDL for good conduct time allowance. Also, in accordance to the Bangkok and Mandela Rules, the rehabilitation a PDL should commence upon his or her admission to the facility. This requires proper documentation of needed information from which programmes and intervention for each PDL can be developed. Linkages with the local government unit, concerned agencies and organisations providing support for PDL should also be institutionalised. Continued training of detention facility personnel on Mandela, Bangkok, Convention Against Torture and Anti-Torture Law should be undertaken as well. The Philippine government must also establish a national preventive mechanism through legislation to address conditions of PDL that may be tantamount to cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment or torture. Finally to complement the efforts of the government, CHR will continue to exercise its mandate to visit jails, detention facilities and other places of deprivation of liberty, covering as well specific conditions and situations of marginalised populations in detention and thematic issues with end in view of promoting the welfare and humane treatment of all PDL.
Lee Yarcia, Legal Expert, UNODC Philippines: Our last presenter is Undersecretary Gilbert Cruz from the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission. He previously served as the co-chair of the UNJP. Usec. Cruz prepared a recorded presentation for us today on the proposed diversion and deflection model for drugs.
Gilbert Cruz, Undersecretary, Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission: Deflection and diversion of drug cases (DDD) – why is it important? About 345,216 people involved with drugs have been arrested from 2016 to 2022. The court is clogged with drug cases, which comprise 57.96% of the total population in jails and prisons. According to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, 67.69% of these cases have yet to be resolved. This results in a backlog that adds to a 397% congestion rate. In other words, the lengthy criminal justice process discourages drug abuse victims from applying for rehabilitation. Criminal justice system in the Philippines is a tedious process and lengthy.
But what is deflection? An alternative to incarceration, which reduces the number of imprisoned by considering the social justice and rehabilitation needs of the person in contact with the criminal justice system. A person involved with drugs will be screened and immediately referred to the health sector for health and social services and programmes. No criminal investigation, arrest, formal charge or court is involved. But what is diversion? Applies to persons already within the criminal justice system, such as persons deprived of liberty, provides a pathway toward community based services and programmes. Aims to link people involved with drugs to health promotion, harm reduction, rehabilitation and treatment, livelihood support and socioeconomic development through services and programmes implemented by the government.
How will deflection and diversion be implemented?
- Upon passage of a special law, a set of parameters will be established for screening. The law enforcers, such as the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), Philippine National Police (PNP) and National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) will use the parameters to screen and immediately refer to the health sector under the Department of Health qualified persons without creating any criminal record.
- The health sector will assess standards set by the Department of Health. It will serve as the triage officer to link persons involved with drugs to health support and socioeconomic development.
- The Department of Health will also set the parameters for the specific services and programmes, building on existing interventions identified by the Dangerous Drugs Board and the Department of Health and the Client Flow further to DDB Board Regulation No.7, series of 2019.
- This proposal further builds on the momentum of the present administration in implementing health and social services and programmes including universal health care under the mandates of the Department of Health and the Philippine Health Insurance.
- In general, the proposal creates long term, sustainable solutions to the roots of drug problems related to health, social and economic problems.
This is the deflection and diversion of the drug case model. Thank you for listening.
Lee Yarcia, Legal Expert, UNODC Philippines: Thank you very much to all the all our panellists. And we now open the floor for reactions. Our first reactor is Mr Zaved Mahmood, our Human Rights and Drug Policy Advisor of the UN Human Rights Office in Geneva.
Zaved Mahmood, Human Rights Officer, UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights: Just a few thing I would like to highlight is that human rights based drug policy is particularly based on the participation of the community and the civil society organisation. This is a really important component of that, and the UN Joint Programme has created that space for civil society, government stakeholders and other stakeholders like the Commission on Human Rights to participate together. This cooperation between different stakeholders need to be continued. That is one of the aspect I would like to highlight. Also, from the Office perspective, we would like to continue to work with our UNODC colleagues and other local stakeholders to promote community driven responses. On jail and prison reforms, we have heard from our colleague from the Commission of Human Rights that initiative has been taken. Important tools which has been mentioned, the Bangkok Rules, the Mandela Rules, the Tokyo Rules, as well as the UN Common Position on Drugs. Also, I would like to add here that the UN Common Position on Incarceration, all that which have been adopted recently, and also the 2019 Ministerial Declaration. These are important to provide the framework for the human rights based approach programme. Recently, just a few days back there has been a commitment made by the Philippines in the recent Universal Periodic Review. However, one thing I would like to end with is that drug based programmes need to be looked at holistic approach. It is part of the UN Joint Programme. Accountability and participation of civil society in every areas are important. Obviously still remain concerns about the accountability issues not being appropriately addressed. It’s in the process but more need to be done to address the accountability and ensure that those who are victims of violation in the context of anti-drug operation and their family have access to justice, feel safe, and to not to face stigma and discrimination.
Lee Yarcia, Legal Expert, UNODC Philippines: Our final reactor is Dr Benjamin Reyes, who currently serves as the Secretary General of the Colombo Plan. Dr Benjamin served as the previous co-chair of the UNJP.
Dr Benjamin Reyes, Secretary General, The Colombo Plan: First, let me congratulate both the Philippine government and the United Nations for this initiative, which is the first of a kind in the world. And I can personally attest on the hard work and sincerity exhibited by both parties to address the issues raised by the international community as well as the civil societies with regards to the previous drug campaign. Now, as far as the UNJP is concerned, I must admit that I’m wearing two hats being a previous official of the DDB. So I want to highlight some of what I feel are successes of the UNJP. To the credit of both signatory parties, the UNJP was able to advocate reforms in the drug campaign to assure adherence to human rights principles and protection of human dignity. By now, you’ll know that several enforcement police officers have been found guilty and brought to justice. And you may also recall that other police officers have been provided administrative and penal sanctions in relation to the government drugs campaign. Definitely this conviction, while still few and far in between, may be viewed as sincere attempts to bring enforcement officers to justice. The gravity of the penalties meted out should serve to deter similar occurrences in the future. Several other cases are still pending, but such is the wheels of justice. Now cognisant of this event, there is a need to review the Philippine anti-drug strategy, which was promulgated through Executive Order No. 66 way back in 2018. Handling the oversight of the campaign to the Dangerous Drugs Board, the Joint Programme assured reforms in the enforcement and justice system, such as the policy of wearing body cameras by operational units of the enforcement agencies, as well as the development of a unified manual in the investigation and prosecution of illegal drug cases. On public health, the algorithm for providing services to the varying levels of needs by substance use disorder patients have been continually expanded by the health sector. Admittedly, community engagement on the drug programme has never seen this much participation throughout Philippine history.
But having said this, let me wear my other hat as the current Colombo Plan Secretary General representing 28 member countries. As I have mentioned in my intervention last Tuesday, Colombo Plan, as a responsible organisation in the international community, undertakes all its mandate while taking to heart the complementary principles of the 2009 Political Declaration and Plan of Action, the 2014 Joint Ministerial Statement and the 2016 UNGASS Outcome Document to address and counter the world drug problem. Our organisation will continue with the belief that all three documents must be given the same emphasis and attention together with the three drug conventions which serve as the cornerstone of the international drug control system, and elaborated further by the International Guidelines on Human Rights and Drug Policy and UNODC Effective Principles of Treatment. The Colombo Plan Drug Advisory Programme, together with our colleagues of international experts in the addiction field and the academe developed the evidence base internationally reviewed universal prevention and universal treatment curriculum, both composed of over 150 modules. In all of these modules, an overarching message that human rights as an essential pillar of the social justice and integral health service provision component is always underscored. Just to mention an example for the law enforcement and criminal justice sector, we have UTC 81 which highlights alternatives to incarceration. Similarly, elements of capacity building activity should give particular importance to stakeholder service provider, the recovering group and the civil society engagement for more dynamic and responsive anti-drug intervention programme implementation. Currently, our experts and technical modules are well entrenched in the activities of the UNJP being observed in the Philippines.
In conclusion, measures undertaken to uphold human rights and human dignity cannot be overemphasised. Understanding of the successes and failures of the past is important if we are to grow and progress in the drug campaign. The UN Joint Programme undertaken by the UN and the Philippine government and the civil society organisations was able to advocate for more accountability and aggressive vigilance by all stakeholders. While not perfect due to cultural, political and logistical limitations, reforms initiated can only produce positive outcomes in the near future. The UNJP is a valuable model and effective tool towards drug reforms which must be emulated worldwide.
Lee Yarcia, Legal Expert, UNODC Philippines: We now proceed to the final part of our side event, which is the closing message. We will now welcome Mr Olivier Lermet, our Senior Policy Advisor in the Philippines.
Olivier-Georges Lermet, Senior Policy Advisor, UNODC Philippines: I think we can all agree that the diversity of inputs is extremely inspiring. UNODC works globally and I’ve been honoured to serve in many countries, notably Southeast Asia and Latin America. And in all honesty, I’ve never been involved in an effort that aims to build such a platform, such as a trust circle between the government, the civil society, the Commission on Human Rights and the international community all gathered in one space trying to address differences, agreeing to disagree on some topics, but moving forward. In the Philippines in particular, we have been present physically since 2017 and we’ve been supporting the government, the civil society partners to try to shape voluntary and community based systems for people who use drugs and a public health system. The underlying principle is quite simple, yet very true. Good public health means good public security. And if we are to meaningfully support building a society that puts people’s safety and welfare at the centre, we have to invest in public health. So with the Joint Programme for Human Rights in the Philippines, there is a real opportunity to craft more public health solutions that should be community driven and that are moving away from punitive only systems that are prevalent in Southeast Asia. And in driving people toward supportive system, inclusion is the key at the individual and systemic level. This has begun, but it is a process that needs to be sustained, monitored, evaluated, and pursued because that ambitious vision will take some time to become a reality. We really thank all the partners for sharing the ongoing work and views on the way forward for the Joint Programme. UNODC will continue to support the efforts of the national partners to reach a more human rights based approach to drugs. I’d just very shortly like to insist that we, through Attorney Julie Regalado from the Commission on Human Rights, we talked a little bit more about the criminal justice, the prison part in the Joint Programme reflecting the architecture of the UNGASS 2016 declaration. Prison is a part of that drug component, and much more would be worth sharing in terms of challenges, but also concrete measures already undertaken and the way forward. So maybe we can discuss that at the next Crime Commission in May and having the Department of Justice sharing some inputs on that. And maybe next year this won’t be a satellite side event. Maybe it could be part of the plenary, too, for the Philippine to share with the global community the difficulties, the challenges, but also the successes. So thank you a lot for joining and let’s continue that effort.