Cannabis has been illegal in the Philippines since 1972 by virtue of Republic Act No. 6425, or the Dangerous Drugs Act of 1972. While there have been discussions in the senate about legalizing the drug for medical purposes (Philippine Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act), no resolution has been reached yet, and the bill does not, in any way, decriminalize the controversial drug. Anybody caught possessing or using marijuana even for medical purposes may be sentenced to years in jail or life imprisonment.
But President Rodrigo Duterte, whether on purpose or just a slip of the tongue, admitted that he uses marijuana “to stay awake” on Monday, December 3 during the conferment of awards for the ASEAN National Organizing Committee in Malacañang. His reason? He feels that his grueling schedules as president make the drug necessary for him to fulfill his duties.
“It’s a killing activity and I think the – my age, ako hindi masyado kasi nagma-marijuana ako eh para magising. Sa iba, hindi na kaya,” he said in front of the crowd.
But in true Duterte style whenever he gets pressed for explanation for his controversial remarks, he told reporters later in the day that he was only joking.
Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo later explained, “You cannot deprive a person to crack jokes.”
This leaves us to think—what does his remark say about his brutal war on drugs? Duterte has shown no mercy for drug users, where he has instructed anti-drug police teams to “shoot to kill” alleged suspects, even with no due process. This has been the main contention of human rights groups against his administration, and the reason for critics and public outcry.
Even if he explained (yet again) that his statement was made in mere jest, how will the public perceive his lack of conviction and credibility during his speeches, which increase the risk for misunderstandings and misinformation?
Several Duterte supporters reason out that “we should be used to his humor” by now. Or that Duterte often deviates from his scripted speeches to liven up the atmosphere. But how long do we have to keep “adjusting” to his way of talking? As president, he is the mouthpiece of the country. His every word reflects his thoughts on policies, issues, and important matters in the country. But if he keeps on making jokes—does that mean our country and his audience are a joke, too?
Jokes are half-meant, as they say, and many observers noted how the president have mentioned having used substances himself in previous speeches, which perhaps make this recent pronouncement have a sliver of truth. Netizens weigh in on the incident:
‘Nobody is laughing’