IPS Drug Policy expert Sanho Tree called Philippines President Duterte’s drug killings a “Trumpian tantrum” in an interview with CCTV.

“The lawlessness that has erupted over this is opening up political space for any kind of killing now,” Tree said. People could be using this crackdown as an excuse to settle grievances, or rival drug gangs could use to take out the competition and expand their turf, Tree said.

“Put a sign around a corpse’s neck and label it drug pusher,” Tree said, that’s all you’d have to do.

Although there has been popular support for these tough tactics, Tree says that’s because the solutions to drug problems are often counterintuitive.

If you see something on fire, for example, your first instinct is to throw water on it. But if you have an electrical fire, the last thing you want to do is throw water on it, Tree explained.

“This is a serious problem for sure, but the solution is not to be found by getting a bigger stick,” Tree said.

Tree said that Thailand tried the same harsh tactics in 2003, but failed. Today, they’re considering decriminalizing methamphetamines.

“Only by  reducing criminal sanctions can you create a space for a public health approach,” Tree said. “People who are driven underground cannot get help.”

Tree said the drug problem in the Philippines will only get worse if they continue to reinforce the underlying factors that drive it, which he says is about economics, not evildoers.

“The people who get caught are the inefficient traffickers,” Tree said. “The people that survive this tend to be the most efficient, innovative, and adaptable traffickers.”

Tree said we must ask ourselves if these policies really make sense. In the United States, for example, the U.S. cracked down on Sudafed tablets. Mexican drug lords responded by importing mass amounts of those chemicals from Asia and exporting them to the United States.

“We took a little problem, and made it massive, and more profitable for the drug traffickers,” Tree said.

And as for the Philippines, Tree said, the only thing worse than organized crime is disorganized crime.

Sanho Tree is the director of the Drug Policy program at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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