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Choose Life

A Pastoral Letter on the Drug Crisis

Beloved People of God:

Today never has our country been menaced so dangerously and seriously by a health and moral crisis since AIDS exploded into our national consciousness.  And the name of the crisis is Drugs, dangerous illegal, addictive drugs.

A Crisis Situation

Already more than 1.5 million Filipinos are users of illegal drugs.  The youth are specially hard hit.  They are the greatest number of drug users.  Among them are more than 350,000 high school students, at the most impressionable period of their lives, threatened by an addiction the horrendous consequences of which they seem to ignore -- until life itself is endangered.

Reports state that, next to Mexico, the Philippines has become the second largest exporter of marijuana and is fast becoming one of the major points for transhipping illegal drugs in Asia.

Dangerous illegal drugs have spawned a shadowy subculture in our communities, barraged and battered as they already are by various forms of vice and violence, injustice and criminality.  It is a subculture that is constituted by a web of illicit relationships involving:  at the surface level, curious, docile and gullible thrill seeking users and their silent, fearful accomplice-friends; at a deeper level, aggressive pushers, smugglers, and violent protectors; and at the deepest level of the evil gutter, faceless criminal drug syndicates of financiers, producers, and secret sources -- bereft of moral conscience, seeking only their criminal profits at the expense of a victim's humanity.

The street value of illegal drugs is reported to be more than half of our national budget.  Such huge amounts of unaccountable funds can surely reach and influence the highest levels of government.  Drug lords are some of the most powerful in our land and can even make or unmake political careers.  No wonder that many law enforcement agents, who should be protecting the people against dangerous drugs, are so easily tempted and become, as newspaper reports indicate, protectors of this criminal industry.

In the process, every drug bust, every arrest of a pusher or a user becomes, it would seem, an exercise of pseudo-justice, since powerful tentacles always reach out to protect the drug subculture from exposure to the light of righteousness.  Justice has reached no further than the surface level of the subculture whose deeper levels seem untouchable.  But Jesus has this to say to them:  "Woe to the world because of the things that cause sin!  Such things must come, but woe to the one through whom they come!" (Mt. 18:7).

Thus the drug problem is a tragedy of terrifying proportions.  Lives, values, relationships, and the processes of justice are brutally sacrificed before the idol of dangerous drugs.

A Crisis Against Human Life and Dignity

Using dangerous illegal drugs is against life.  It dehumanizes.  It debases human dignity.  It weakens and injures the God-given faculties of intellect and will, disables judgment, causes irrational impulses and unpredictable mood changes.  As human beings we do not have the right nor the freedom to take such drugs.  God did not give us the right to harm ourselves, despite what some current false morality might say about not interfering with, or setting moral norms about, what we can do with our own bodies.  Human life and personal dignity are God-given and we cannot abdicate our responsibility to protect and promote them.  We are but stewards of these precious gifts.

From the experiences of victims, we know that those who take illegal drugs have little understanding about the meaning of life.  They think of life as adventuring, as getting high, as escaping from responsibility, as seeking sensual, emotional and psychological thrills and pleasure.  Not finding these and facing the reality of life's ordinariness, drudgery and depression, they seek physical total oblivion through overdose.  Many deaths from overdose are voluntary suicides -- yet another proof of the anti-life character of illegal drugs.

In the teaching of the Church, using dangerous illegal drugs "is always illicit, because it implies an unjustified and irrational refusal to think, will and act as free persons"  (John Paul II, To the Participants at the International Conference on Drugs and Alcohol , November 23, 1991).  Clearly is this dramatized by the phenomenon of drug dependency, when "an individual feels an uncontrollable need" for drugs, "the privation of which can cause him psycho-physical disorders" (Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health Workers, Charter for Health Care Workers, 1994, no. 90).

But even more culpable are the drug dealers, pushers, protectors, financiers and producers who "for the sake of money, care nothing about drawing others, especially innocent youth, into addictive dependency that ruins their very lives" (Catechism for Filipino Catholics, no. 1036; see also PCP II, no. 381).

Addressing the Root Causes of the Crisis

At the very root of the crisis is the lack of appreciation of the God-given meaning of human life and dignity.  As in the days of the Old Testament, so today we are asked to choose between life and death.  "I have set before you life and death...  Choose life... by loving the Lord, your God, heeding his voice, and holding fast to him" (Dt. 30:19-20).  To choose life is to live the newness of life in Christ such as integrity, justice, love, and fidelity to his commandments.  To choose death is to choose sin, vice, crime and all death-dealing values and behavior; it is to ignore the meaning of life in Christ.

It is, therefore, for reasons of the call to human life in its very depths that we all need to address the root causes that drive people to use drugs.  Among these causes are peer pressure, the negative quality of relationships within the family, the rigidity or laxity of home discipline, ignorance or apathy, a lack of self-esteem, the influence of hedonism through mass media, and laxity of law enforcement at various levels.

Information about illegal drugs and their deleterious effects is necessary.  But even more imperative is religious and value formation that should be given within the family, by schools, and by churches.  A holistic strategy involving all sectors of society is indispensable to respond effectively to the drug crisis.

While we should "punish the pusher", we must "save the user."  We do not condone the possible fault of the drug dependent person.  But we must assist the liberation and reintegration of the individual.

Reintegration means more than medical treatment.  It requires pastoral care.  As an integral human process, the rehabilitation of an individual addicted to drugs requires getting "to know the individual and to understand his inner world; to bring him to discovery or rediscovery of his dignity as a person, to help him to reawaken and develop... those personal resources, which the use of drugs has suppressed"  (John Paul II, To the Participants at the VII World Congress of Therapeutic Communities, September 7, 1984; cited in Charter for Health Care Workers , no. 95).  Such process needs the services of skilled and compassionate physicians, psychologists, social workers, guidance and spiritual counselors -- acting in the manner of Jesus, the Compassionate Healer.

Urgent Measures to Respond to the Crisis

We, therefore, urge the government to expand its social services on behalf of drug victims so that rehabilitation may be done expeditiously, with compassion, care and dignity.

In no uncertain terms, we strongly condemn the drug subculture and the clandestine producing, smuggling and trafficking of illegal drugs.  We likewise strongly denounce the relative inaction, the apparently token anti-drug campaigns, and the reported complicity of many law enforcers in this criminal industry.

Lawmakers should re-examine our present laws and see if they actually embolden rather than deter criminals; stiffer laws with stiffer penalties should be enacted.

We urge government authorities and courts of justice to faithfully and zealously perform their task of promoting law and order and eradicating this scourge of drugs.  They must seek to identify the leaders of the drug subculture, pursue them and bring them to justice, irrespective of power, class, status, family connections, and without palakasan or paki-usap.

They must ferret out the reported syndicates among law and order officers that are allegedly raking in millions of pesos by framing up local and foreign businessmen on drug charges.  All scalawags in uniform involved in the drug business have to be weeded out and punished with the full force of the law.  They stain the official uniform which so many others wear with justifiable pride and integrity.

We urge parents to provide the necessary loving and caring environment, where the young can grow in responsibility and discipline, imbued with a vibrant sense of personal dignity, and deeply convinced of the moral and religious meaning of life.

We appeal to educators who act in the place of parents to provide a similar environment and formation.  They must concientiously fulfill the law which prescribes the integration of drug education into the curriculum.  They must also ensure that drug pushers do not gain entry into the school community.

The death of a victim or the brutal murder of an anti-drug crusader, such as a beloved young priest in Cavite, should evoke not only community abhorence but community solidarity.  The community must take concrete united action, within the law, to rid itself of any drug pusher or dealer.

We commit ourselves to direct the pastoral ministry of the Church towards a deeper awareness and concern with regard to the drug crisis, a more active role in value formation in the light of the Gospel, and a more extensive compassionate care of drug victims.  We hereby direct Church instrumentalities to cooperate with government agencies and NGO's in the campaign against drugs.  Wherever possible and necessary, dioceses should set up referral centers to help drug victims.

In this holy crusade, prayerfully do we invoke the intercession of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of Life, that the saving grace and power of her Son, Jesus the Compassionate and Divine Healer, accompany our efforts to promote life in its fullness.

For the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines:

Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan

10 July 1997

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