By Gideon Lasco and Gloria Lai / Philippine Daily Inquirer

Life was made harder for many people when the COVID-19 virus swept the world. It was even harder for people who found themselves caught up in the wide radius impacted by blindly brutal drug policies. This is particularly true for Asia—a continent characterized by governments that demonize drugs and the people associated with them.

In Cambodia, a pregnant woman at home opens the door to police accusing her and her husband of selling drugs; no drugs could be found but she and her husband are still sent to prison where, after being denied justice at every step, she eventually gives birth then raises her baby in a dirty, dank, overcrowded cell.

Alas, her case is no rarity in the region, as the predicaments of people in various countries show. People like Kian delos Santos, the 17-year-old boy in Caloocan City, Philippines, who was shot dead, then later accused of being a drug courier. Or Merri Utami, the migrant worker in Indonesia’s death row because, in her own words, “I was accused of smuggling drugs in the bag I brought, inside of which lay 1 kilogram of heroin I did not know of.” Or Fidelis Arie Sudewarto in Indonesia, jailed for eight months and fined $75,000 for the “crime” of growing medical marijuana to help ease the suffering of his dying, cancer-stricken wife.

Alongside many others who faced or are facing similar violence, legal or otherwise, what these cases have in common is that drugs are invoked by authorities as justification for measures that go beyond the bounds of what is just, reasonable, and humane. Another thing they have in common is they come from economically deprived or marginalized backgrounds, reminding us that a “war on drugs” is all too often a war on the poor.