Monday, January 23, 2017

The first droga war killed a government revenue source

The first droga war in the Philippines took place more than a century ago. It happened soon after the American conquest of our country: their war against opium, an addictive drug .

It was part of the American military government's efforts “to reform the public morals of Manila’s inhabitants” although it was primarily intended to protect the American soldiers. They regulated prostitution and alcoholic beverages; they banned cockfighting; they closed lotteries and gambling houses; and contracts for the sale of opium to the Chinese were discontinued.  One American writer considered these as attempts to remake the Filipino in their own (American) image.

Those reform measures were 'costly'. They killed the sources of revenue during the Spanish colonial period.

“The exclusive right to sell opium, which was farmed out in 1849, yielded five hundred thousand pesos per annum,” Charles Elliot (c1916) wrote. “Cockpits were also sources of government revenue. A royal order of March 21, 1861, provided for the regulation of this popular amusement. The privilege to operate cockpits was sold to the highest bidder and yielded the government from one hundred thousand pesos to two hundred thousand pesos per year. In 1891 this source of revenue was relinquished to the local governments. Lotteries were encouraged and from 1850 to the American occupation they brought in about eight hundred thousand pesos per year. Three-fourths of the receipts were distributed in prizes, and all unsold tickets were "played" by the treasury.  …. The trade in quicksilver, salt, playing cards and, in later times, spirituous liquors, explosives, opium and tobacco, was reserved to the government and the profits were large.” 

The Spanish colonial laws forbade Filipinos to use the drug, but they allowed the Chinese do it in duly licensed smoking establishments. The contracts for the sale of opium were revenue sources of the Spanish government.

In the Noli me Tangere of Jose Rizal, Capitan Tiago, surrogate father of Maria Clara, and a Chinese exploited the opium contract for rich profits.

In 1903, the Americans found that the opium habit was spreading across the country even up to the Muslim south. Initially, they wanted to enforce regulations patterned after the Spanish laws but this was opposed especially by what was called the “Evangelical Union” of non-Roman Catholic clergy. The Philippine Commission decided to investigate first and sent a committee to visit neighboring countries and study their opium laws. When they returned, they recommended a measure to completely suppress this vice, modelled after the Japanese law in effect in Formosa.

The Commission enacted the Opium Law (Act No. 1761) in October 1907 with the view of finally suppressing the opium traffic. It came into effect on 01 March 1908: opium importation was prohibited except by the government and for medicinal purposes.

In its report in 1909, the Bureau of Customs said,“The importation of opium for any except medicinal purposes having been prohibited March 1, 1908, by Act No. 1761, the legitimate entry of this drug during the past year amounted to but a little over 52 kilos. upon which only $215 in duty was collected. The effect of this legislation upon the treasury has been the elimination of a source of revenue averaging some $300,000, gold, per year. The restriction also resulted in an enormous increase in the local value of the drug, and the high premium on any that could be smuggled in has proved an incentive to many [people] to engage in the illicit traffic. ... Some idea may be gained of the extent of this traffic from the fact that nearly one and one-half metric tons were seized during the year in attempts at illegal importation, mostly by Chinese. ..."

To replace opium, and to thwart that law, there were attempts to smuggle a replacement: cocaine. 

Thus, through the years, drug laws evolved to regulate/prohibit addictive substances that appear in the market. 

Heroin was the menace of the 1960s. It was either smoked or injected. The noted journalist Rodolfo Reyes of the Manila Times penetrated a 'dope den' in Malabon and exposed a drug syndicate. His story earned him awards including the Ten Outstanding Young Men (TOYM).

The current menace - shabu - has created an underground world of its own: users, pushers, dealers and drug lords, and, protectors. The audible/visible scenarios are gleaned from House and Senate hearings, reportage in the print and social media, on the purported "who's who" in that underworld and the money that's involved. There's no money that goes to the coffers of government, but there's money that allegedly pays for the protective cloak over the underground.

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