(Editor's note: Romulo Neri served as director-general of the National Economic Development Authority during the Arroyo administration. He is now senior advisor to the board of Regina Capital)
MANILA - While President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on crime and drugs has gained wide public support, there are not enough jails and rehabilitation centers to house the huge number of drug addicts running to millions.
Moreover, our jails are extremely overcrowded. We have declared war on drugs but don’t know what to do with those who surrender.
We can treat drug addicts as zombies, where the hero in the zombie movie exterminates as may zombies as he can. But given the millions of drug addicts, we will be committing genocide and become a global pariah. Besides, zombies only exist only in the imaginary world, while drug addicts are human beings that can still be rehabilitated.
The challenge is how to convert drug addicts and minor criminals from social liabilities to social assets, by mobilizing their wasted manpower into socially useful activities.
This paper proposes to combine the governments rehabilitation program with reforestation efforts by drawing on the experience of the program established by US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the era of the Great Depression.
The program mobilized and employed six million jobless young Americans to plant three billion trees. It relieved unemployment and kept the American youth “off the city street corners."
Roosevelt called them his “tree army." The program was officially called the Civilian Conservation Corps or the CCC and was funded by the US Congress. Its mission was nature conservation and reforestation.
The CCC enrolled 300,000 men between the ages 18 to 25 in 1933, and provided jobs to 6 million men enrolled between 1933 and 1941. It operated under the US Army’s control (General Douglas McArthur was placed in charge) with the assistance of National Park Service employees.
Seventy percent of the enrolees were malnourished and poorly clothed. They got paid $1 a day or $30 a month ($547 in 2015).
The CCC ended with the second world war, but the paramilitary discipline learned in the CCC provided unexpected preparation for the manpower mobilization needed by the United States for the war.
CCC alumni became corporals and sergeants. It was the most popular of FDR’s New Deal programs (82% approval with 92% of Democrats and 67% of Republicans in favor). CCC is now the model for 115 conservation programs in 41 US states.
Using Roosevelt’s CCC program as an inspiration and guide, this paper proposes to rehabilitate the millions of Philippine drug addicts by mobilizing them into a corps of nature conservation and reforestation manpower thereby making them assets of the State instead liabilities.
The same can apply to those accused of minor crimes living in pitiful and inhuman conditions in extremely congested city and provincial jails.
Standard rehabilitation methods tend to be expensive and will not be able to solve the problem to the extent required since it has grown to such humongous proportions. Only a massive social mobilization will match the gargantuan scale of the social problem.
To allow for a centralized coordination of what I propose to call the Citizen’s Rehabilitation Program, it will be necessary to form a special coordinating body under the Office of the President.
This coordinating body will be composed of the secretaries of the DND, DENR, DILG, DOJ, DA, TESDA, and the heads of the Governors’ and Mayors’ leagues. The President can choose to chair this body himself or designate the executive secretary or one with his full trust as the chairperson.
The first agenda item would be to determine the target number of drug addicts to be covered over a time period, the areas to be reforested and rehabilitated, and the resources required from which department or agency of government.
Pilot programs can be immediately started in military lands and critical watersheds based on the resources currently available. A special appropriation will then be proposed to Congress for the full implementation of the program on a nationwide scale.
We can include in this Citizen’s Rehabilitation Program character building and skills training together with food production activities. The cooperation of religious groups , NGO’s and military reservists may be needed.
Among the resources that need to be budgeted are food and clothing allowance, simple living quarters in the style of military barracks, sanitation , tents, earth-moving equipment to allow access to areas for reforestation, medical supplies, protection against mosquitoes and snakebites, shovels and grass cutters, transport from campsite to reforestation areas, seedlings, etc.
Female enrolees may be assigned to gardening and lighter productive tasks. Private sector will be urged to contribute financially or in kind to the program.
Depending on the budget, the enrolees to this program may be given a daily allowance and incentives based on their productivity.
Should the budget not allow for any monetary compensation, the graduates may be given a certificate of completion with an entitlement share to the economic resources the program may eventually produce, such as commercial forests and fruit orchards.