November 24, 2016

The 17th Congress is currently deliberating proposed bills to reinstate the death penalty in the Philippines. Most of these bills take off from the government’s ongoing “war on drugs,” which sees people involved with drugs as criminals who should be dealt with the harshest penalty of death. The proponents of the reinstatement of the death penalty characterize drug use as influencing citizens to perpetuate “the most perverse and atrocious crimes in the most repugnant of manners (sic).”[1]

The perspective reflected in the bills manifests an archaic, unscientific, and backward understanding of drug use. A punitive framework has been shown to be ineffective in dealing with drug-related issues. NoBox Philippines joins the call of civil society in strongly opposing the passage of the Death Penalty Law, and advocates for a public health response to drug-related issues in the Philippines.

The criminalization of people who use drugs in Asia and elsewhere around the world has failed to deter people from drug use. There is no evidence that supports the claim that harsher and more severe punishment, which includes the death penalty, results in meaningful reductions in drug use.[2] According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime,[3] the excessive use of imprisonment for drug-related offenses of a minor nature is also ineffective in reducing recidivism and overburdens the criminal justice system, preventing the efficient coping with more serious crimes. On the other hand, the provision of evidence-based health and social services to drug users, as an alternative to incarceration, has been shown to substantially increase recovery and reduce recidivism.

Drug use alone should not be seen as a social evil or moral failing,  as a huge majority of people involved with drugs do not have any associated drug use problems.[4] In fact, data would show that alcohol, more than any illegal drug,  is found to be more closely associated with violent crimes,[5] and yet our current laws do not treat alcohol consumption with the same ferocity for drug use.

NoBox Philippines believes that drug use occurs in a context where people find personal meaning in it due to various factors, including adapting and coping mechanisms, which do not amount to a social harm that society should persecute. The United Nations, through Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, has called on States to increase focus on public health, prevention, treatment and care, as well as on economic, social and cultural strategies as alternative to criminalizing drug use.[6] Harm reduction, which refers to policies, programmes, and practices that aim to primarily reduce the adverse health, social and economic consequences of the use of legal and illegal psychoactive drugs without solely focusing on drug consumption, must be undertaken by the government to address drug-related issues in the Philippines.

NoBox Philippines joins civil society in believing that the death penalty has absolutely no role in evidence-based, scientific, and humane drug policies. We call on our legislators to oppose the passage of the Death Penalty Law, and support a public health approach to drug use.

[1] Death Penalty Law, H.R. 1, 17th Phil. Cong. Available at:

[2] International Drug Policy Consortium, A Public Health Approach to Drug Use in Asia: Principles and Practices for Decriminalisation(2016), p. 9. Available at:

[3] United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, World Drug Report (2016),  p. xxi. Available at:.

[4] Id, p. xi.

[5] National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Alcohol, Drugs and Crime (2016). Available at:

[6] United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, Message on International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking (2015), UNIS/SGSM/645. Available at:

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