Referring to his tight schedule at the recent Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Papua New Guinea, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte said, “I use marijuana to stay awake.”
Like all his barely thought-out statements with implications for state policy, it triggered a social media firestorm for his Palace handlers to defuse. The next day came his equally familiar statement, “I was joking.”
Whether he was or not quickly took second place to an even weightier matter than undermining his own war on drugs. That matter is public understanding of why, in the first place, the Philippine government defines marijuana as a “dangerous drug leading to addiction and stronger drugs”.
This claim, built on shaky facts prevalent since the ’70s and implemented by the Marcos military, was not sui generis. Fact is, it was borrowed from the United States’ own war against a new generation protesting the Vietnam War. With their counterculture’s battle cry (“Turn on, tune in, drop out!”), getting stoned on “weed” and refusing the draft were rites of passage for hippies and antiwar activists confronting a government at war with its own young.
History’s wheel continues turning. Under pressure from the Make Love, Not War generation, legalising marijuana is trending in America. Ten states and Washington have now legalised the drug, 13 states have decriminalised it, and 32 states have legalised medical marijuana. In 26 other countries, weed is, “if not legal, at least super chill and legal-ish,” according to thrillist.com’s “The Best Countries Around the World to Smoke Weed”.
With growing research, cannabis is more deeply understood as an organic wonder drug today. Who knows? It could be coming into its own in a Philippines with rich volcanic soil now earning a reputation for its possibilities as a global marijuana source.
Mercurial President Duterte is not impervious to this state of affairs, even as his war on drugs and iron hand suppressing human rights continue to provoke global uproar. More interestingly, he himself can be classified an addict to the dangerous chemical drug fentanyl – manufactured in China like the shabu (crystal meth) ingested by thousands of victims of his drug war.
The possibility that he may be ingesting both chemical fentanyl and organic marijuana for pain management is explosive both to his health and the nation’s politics. And that a stoned Philippine head of state at war with drugs may have inadvertently set that in motion is rich irony indeed.
Sylvia L Mayuga is a Filipino
essayist, sometime columnist, poet, documentary filmmaker and
environmentalist. She has three National Book Awards to her name.