BAGUIO CITY – Whenever Cordillera tribal folks get invited to social gatherings to partake of food, merriment and camaraderie, there is this jocular saying often expressed: “Where there is smoke, there is etag and pinikpikan,” Or, “Where there is smoke, there is kinnuday and pinikpikan,” Or, “Where there is smoke, there is kini-ing and pinikpikan.”
Etag, kini-ing or kinuday is salted pork and smoked for days to attain a unique taste and always added to pinikpikan, a chicken singed off its feathers.
Many Firefighters worth their salt and assigned with the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP-CAR) tinkered a bit on the phrase and came out with, “Where there is smoke, there is fire!”
Not to be outdone, highlander and lowlander pundits reshuffled the phrase further and came out with, “Where there is smoke, there is marijuana, ” in a slap to those who use marijuana and, a direct reference to law enforcement officers who raid, uproot and burn outright, marijuana plants uncovered in Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR).
They even humorously add that law enforcement officers doing marijuana burning are legally exempt from the provisions of RA 9003, or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act, that prohibits, among others, burning of leaves, discarded plants/things or trash.
By and large, the phrase is connected to fire. There is another saying, “Do not play with fire, if you do not want to get burned.” Its barefaced message is simply that fire, when tamed is a good tool, but when it gets out of hand, becomes a very deadly beast.
And tinkering with marijuana in whatever manner, by planting, selling or using it is exactly the same as playing with deadly fire. Either way, one can get imprisoned or killed.
On such plane and among others, according to rookie senator Robin Padilla, explains reasons why he filed Senate Bill 230 or the “Medical Cannabis Compassionate Act of the Philippines,” by helping restrict illegal proliferation of the hemp while getting something beneficial out of it.
CAR dwellers know publicly that authorities have for long since, tagged CAR the top marijuana growing region in the Philippines since it became a public menace. Mindanao comes next.
CAR dwellers do not approve marijuana being grown in their region. However, long before, planters found that marijuana plants thrive best under CAR’s regional climatic conditions. They exploited it.
Illegal planters took advantage of CAR’s mountainous terrain, and sowed the seeds of addiction and destruction, away from prying eyes while motivated by greed and profit. By their action, they aggravated the Philippine drug problem.
It became a condition of drawback for law enforcement authorities working hard to nip the problem in the bud, according to authorities. Marijuana and other illicit drugs became the “beasts” and the planters and distributors the “merchants of death.”
Latest report released by the Police Regional Office – Cordillera Administrative Region (PRO-COR) revealed seven marijuana plantations were raided the last week of November by anti-drug operatives in the provinces of Benguet, Kalinga and Ifugao and 88,170 marijuana plants, 1,200 seedlings with an estimated street value of 17,682,000 Philippine pesos were uprooted and destroyed onsite by fire.
PRO-COR regional director BGen. Mafelino Bazar said 14 persons suspected of being involved in the marijuana plantations were in custody, following the week-long covert operation. They face charges for violation of the provisions of Republic Act 9165, better known as the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.
Such latest anti-drug operation, conducted Nov. 20 to 26, 2022, is just one of the countless operations conducted for many years by law enforcement agencies like the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), the Philippine National Police (PNP), the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) and other attached arms of the government responsible for civil security.
And the problem of illegal drug trade and use persists. Law enforcement sources of Daily Laborer fully conversant about the drug problem but want to remain anonymous due to sensitivity of their official functions ruefully intimate that “eradication” of the drug abuse in the country is a “pipe dream.” “Elimination” of it, region-wide, is even a problem.
Still, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) has embarked on the Barangay Drug Program as the agency’s main framework in cleansing communities of illegal drugs.
They know whereof they speak. Drug abuse is a societal problem, with a variety of factors influencing illegal drug prevalence. Eradication would mean that drug abuse would completely be reduced to zero while elimination of it would be reduction to zero in a given region, province, city, municipality or barangay.
Drug abuse affects almost all countries in the world and in the case of the Philippines, these law enforcement sources revealed it reached “epidemic proportions” and became a government top agenda.
They cited a United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) study which revealed annual prevalence for marijuana at 3.5 per cent.
Is there anything good about marijuana? Two schools of thought have sprung regarding use of marijuana medically, when Padilla filed his bill and generated a lot of well-meaning premises. They are the pros and the cons.
Those against dismiss it outright as a medical option. On the other hand, the pros aver marijuana helps in mitigating seriousness of certain diseases and planting it under legal scope helps in containing illegal cultivation of the hemp, scientifically called Cannabis sativa.
Padilla, in filing his bill last July explained, “To legalize and regulate Cannabis, which has been confirmed to have beneficial and therapeutic uses for known debilitating conditions.”
Legalizing cannabis for medical use will not decriminalize abuse of the plant, is in a nutshell, the core of his bill, Padilla explained.
Padilla explained in his proposed bill: “ The State, by way of exception, allow the use of cannabis for compassionate purposes to promote the health and well-being of citizens proven to be in dire need of such, while at the same time providing the strictest regulations to ensure that abuses for casual use or profiteering be avoided.”
Medical uses of the cannabis under the proposed law refer to “debilitating medical conditions of qualified patients.”
Debilitating conditions defined by the proposed law will be identified by the Department of Health (DOH) through a medical Cannabis Advisory Committee and may include, among others, sclerosis, cancer, damage to the nervous system of the spinal cord, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, chronic autoimmune deficiency, rheumatoid arthritis, mood disorders, and diseases requiring hospice care, migraine headaches and severe nausea.
In short, it could be used for pain management, as compared to other medical options like morphine.
Under the bill, DOH will be the main regulatory agency responsible in establishing so-called Medical cannabis Compassionate Centers in public third level hospitals, Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) and Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) will monitor and regulate cannabis.
Benguet representative Eric Yap voiced his support to the medical marijuana bill, explaining that its regulation for cultivation and distribution very particularly for medical purposes will aid in suppressing illegal cultivation of the plant in hinterland Cordillera and adjacent provinces.
Benefit-wise, Yap foresees legal planting of marijuana as stipulated under the proposed bill will add income to the coffers of Cordillera Local Government Units (LGUs), generate jobs in CAR and will become a source of livelihood while CAR provinces can get a fair share of excise taxes by businesses acquiring marijuana supply in the processing of the plant exclusively for medical use.
Yap underscored that his endorsement to the proposed bill should not be interpreted as condoning illegal cultivation of the hemp, but above all, zeroing only on the value of the plant as a medication for specified illnesses and even deterring such sickness while at the same time curbing its felonious cultivation.
On the other hand, Ifugao governor Jerry Dalipog explained during the first week of December that if Padilla’s Senate Bill No. 230 will be approved, Ifugao is suited for its growing and will benefit provincial economy while multiplying jobs.
Dalipog pointed out that is such case; Ifugao can offer worn-down and abandoned rice paddies as planting sites, with approval of communities responsible in choosing areas as “controlled cannabis cultivation areas,” and far from paddies planted to rice.
It can remembered that during the tenure of Cresencio Pacalso as governor of Benguet, he voiced support of House Bill 180, called “An Act Providing Compassionate and Right of Access to Medical Cannabis and Expanding Research into its Medicinal Properties,” authored by Isabela Representative Rodolfo Albano III.
However the bill of Albano got stuck in the 16th Congress. Albano refilled his bill in the 17th Congress but it failed to pass.
Comes now the bill of Padilla. According to a press release of the 19th Congress dated August 4, 2022, “Padilla’s bill has gained support from various groups.”
Three of the groups include, the Philippine Cannabis Compassionate Society, according to its spokesperson, Dr. Donnabel Cunanan, Dr. Gem Marq Mutia, founder of the Philippine Society of Cannabinoid Medicine and Chuck Manansala of Masikyah Research.
However, Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) Secretary Catalino S. Cuy expressed reservation on the bill, explaining that while the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC) found that although it could be used for medical purposes, risks remain.
For said reason, DDB’s stand is to defer to recommendations of DOH and the Philippine Medical Association. Definitely, Cuy stressed, “We support further medical research for possible medical use of marijuana.”
Some senators expressed wariness against rushing a passage for a measure granting access to medical cannabis as a compassionate alternative for medical treatment.
Senator Christopher Lawrence Bong Go, chairman of the Senate chair of the Committee on Health and Demography, opined he is open marijuana as medical use but cautioned safeguards must be in place to deter abuse.
Senator Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada believed, “The Filipinos are not yet ready for marijuana as medicinal use and the proposal needs further study.”
Senator Sherwin Gatchalian feared it might lead to abuse and rampant proliferation of the weed. Dr. Tony Leachon, an internal medicine expert, agreed with Gatchalian.
Senator Ronald dela Rosa said those who are in favor and those against the bill “have their own good reasons, but let us try to keep our hearts and minds open to any possibility.”
Law enforcement officers reached out by Daily Laborer have also their stand. Others are against the Padilla bill; others opined that if it will help curb the drug problem, then they are for it.
But these law enforcement officers keeping an open mind re-iterate a big “NO” on what they explain that in making it legal to be planted, may only add more fire and smoke that the plant becomes a “monstrous beast rampaging in every Filipino household.”