SAN FRANCISCO — This is 22-year-old Justine Balane and 23-year-old Shamah Bulangis of Akbayan Youth, speaking to the Filipino-American community of San Francisco.
They came from the annual Students for Sensible Drug Policy conference held in Baltimore, Maryland — where they presented on “Human Rights and the War on Drugs in the Philippines.”
They say it is their obligation to fight against President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war, which has claimed thousands of lives.
“We’re acting on it because we feel that our lives are at stake, and especially with 54 minors killed already in Duterte’s war on drugs, there’s a need for the youth to take action,” says Balane.
“Most of the people who use drugs right now in the Philippines are young people. But also at the same time because young people that get killed in the war on drugs are being called collateral damage. The youngest being a 4-year-old girl,” said Bulangis.
The speakers also cite how the government is considering lowering the criminal age to send people to jail from 15 to nine-years-old.
While the speakers say are fighting for the youth — they also say the drug war is against women.
“They use accusations of being drug protectors. They use the accusations of being kidnappers as a way of trying to crack down the opposition that is mainly made of strong women in the Philippines.”
The speakers say they find some hope that the drug war can end in the Harm Reduction Senate Bill — which aims to provide health services to drug users.
“It basically gives local communities more access to health care which is the problem of why a lot people are getting addicted to drugs in the first place.”
“Instead of killing your labor force, instead of killing the people who are going to work for the government and for the country, you’re going to take care of them to make them more integrated into the labor force.”
While on the East Coast, the Akbayan Youth representatives lobbied for Senate Bill 55 — the Philippines Human Rights Accountability and Counternarcotics Act, which was a bi-partisan bill filed by Democratic Senator Ben Cardin and Republican Senator Marco Rubio.
The bill aims to restrict the export of certain weapons and equipment from the United States to the Philippine National Police, to work with the Philippines to work on substance abuse, and to report on Chinese and other sources of narcotics to the Philippines.