Sometimes the hearings dragged. At other times they were truly entertaining. But the singular message, thanks to intensive media coverage, will not be missed: The drug syndicates are so pervasive. They could buy influence, using the hard-earned money of the millions of poor users lured into addiction.
The testimony Kerwin Espinosa made at the Senate last week was most chilling. He detailed who he paid off to be untouchable. He named police officers, generals, and even the then sitting secretary of justice.
Kerwin, who is probably the young wizard of the illegal drugs industry, tells us how the illegal drugs industry is organized and how it profits. He distinguishes between “drug lords” and “distributors.” He belittles his role as that merely of a “distributor.”
The big “drug lords” he names are all in maximum security prison, which has become during the previous years some sort of stock exchange where the interplay of supply and demand sets the prices of illegal drugs for the day.
“Distributors” like him are like wholesalers. They acquire their stock of drugs and sell them down. “Distributors” control territory. This is their defined market. The more users there are in their concessions, the more profitable their business.
The whole country has been cut up into concessions for the major drug distributors. “Shabu” is a volume game. Those who are able to sell more get bigger supplies from the “drug lords.” They do not have to overprice if they can make the same money by selling more.
All we know now, which President Duterte already told us during the campaign period, is that the illegal drug industry is a volume game. He warned all of us with a passion, saying that if the drug menace is not crushed the whole nation will soon succumb to narcopolitics. He warned all of us the syndicates have bought up influence: the police officers, the judges and politicians. That has made them invulnerable. Soon they will rule all of us indirectly, through the politicians they have in their pockets.
Succeeding events bore him out. In his first weeks in office, hundreds of thousands of drug pushers and users voluntarily surrendered. The state’s capacity for rehabilitating the victims and prosecuting the public officers cooperating with the drug syndicates have all been fully stretched. Our jails are full. Our rehab centers are overflowing. Every piece of evidence tells us the drug problem is far larger than any of us dared imagine before this administration’s antidrug campaign began.
One shudders at the thought of what might happen if Mr. Duterte were not elected president. We would have a continuation of the same sort of corruption, wholesale bribery of enforcers and politicians, and the steady march of the syndicates. If the same sort of previous response continued, drug lords would have overwhelmed us all.
It is a dreadful thought: What we now see might be just the tip of the iceberg. How many public officers were bought by the drug lords? How many more might have succumbed if we had a less determined president? Who would stand up against the power and money of this “industry”?
The beans spilled by the likes of Kerwin Espinosa and Ronnie Dayan are terrifying as they are. But we know there are more stories to be told. The menace has many facets. The threat will refuse to subside.
Now we know why Rodrigo Duterte is so passionate, so insistent about the antidrug effort. Now we know why he is so angry, why he says he is willing to risk everything to push this effort. He understands the dynamic of illegal drugs. He knows that the more money the syndicates control, their influence will grow exponentially.
In the face of the specter of illegal drugs, no problem could be more urgent for the nation. We face an existential threat. The current case simply illustrates how illegal drugs could corrupt and coopt those who merely appear to govern us.