A drug detainee’s story: Surviving the inhuman
MANILA, Philippines — “Don’t bail him out because if we see him out there again he could be dead.”
This was the advice given by police in a precinct in Quezon City to the family of Aldyz, a user of shabu, or crystal meth, who was arrested when he tried to buy his supply from a known drug dealer near the North Cemetery at the boundary of Manila and Quezon City.
A relative said Aldyz was on his way to buy shabu from his usual dealer when he came across a boy who warned him that police were on a stakeout near the dealer’s house, accessible through a maze of dark and garbage-strewn alleys too narrow that two people couldn’t walk there at the same time if they were heading in opposite directions.
But Aldyz, hooked on shabu, ignored the warning and made his way into the alleys where police were waiting. They arrested him.
That night, Aldyz found himself in a cell with several other men arrested for either buying or selling shabu. They were sharing space no bigger than half a jeepney with nothing in it except for what President Rodrigo Duterte would consider as dregs of society, addicts whose brains had been so cooked by meth already that they had become zombies beyond redemption.
In the cell, Aldyz, who is in his 50s, had to learn to sleep standing. There was no space to lie down. Relatives tried to bring him a banig, a sleeping mat, but police in the precinct advised against it. Bring cardboard instead, they were told.
Like in stories common about jail life in the Philippines, there was a hierarchy in the cell that Aldyz found himself in. A “mayor” is in charge, deciding who could lie down on space on the cement floor near the toilet, the only place in the cell big enough for an inmate to sleep on lying down.
The mayor would also charge P30 for food if no relative would visit the inmate and he would have no food. Some inmates would go days without food as no one came to visit. Other inmates would take pity and share their food brought by relatives.
There were no plates or utensils, which are prohibited in jails. The inmates would instead take turns eating food in a plastic container, which once held ice cream. They would use their hands or dip their faces into it as dogs would into their food bowls, passing the container to the next inmate after partaking of his share.
A relative of Aldyz cried when she saw the container. It looked a lot like that the family pet, a native dog, used as a food bowl.
Among the unwritten rules in the cell is not to bring decent clothes for the inmate, these would be taken away by the cell bosses, or those who had assumed leadership roles in the cell and impose this on other inmates by threatening physical harm — or even rape. Aldyz lost two shirts just on the first night of his detention.
Aldyz’s relatives knew he would someday end up in jail, if not in the cemetery.
Drugs, specifically shabu, had been as common as cigarettes in their community although all they gad been hearing about were arrests of users and small-time pushers and no big-time drug dealer. Until President Duterte’s brutal war on drugs came.
The community saw its first summary execution victim — the body of an addict lying on the highway that connects them to the rest of Quezon City and Caloocan. It seemed as if the body was left there for all to see.
Aldyz’s mother, a hypertensive woman in her 70s, dreaded the day someone would come rushing to her home to announce that her son had been killed. That Aldyz was alive and in jail was not a better alternative, but at least the family would not have to hold a wake, yet.
Human face to data
Aldyz’s case somehow gives a human face to data on overcrowding in Philippine jails.
In its 2019 report “Contemporary Asian Drug Policy: Insights and Opportunities for Change,” the US think tank Rand Corp. said the mass surrender of suspected drug users and pushers at the start of President Duterte’s war on drugs had pumped up prison population by at least 22 percent.
At least 140,000 people are now packed like sardines in whatever jail space is available in Philippine police stations or smaller detention facilities. At least 62 percent of these, or some 84,000, are being held for drugs, but only 290 had their cases reach judgment — which meant either they were moved to the bigger New Bilibid Prison or set free.
Those who do not end up in jail are now six feet under the ground. Police estimate their numbers at a little less than 5,000, but human rights groups claim the figure exceeds 20,000.
Just days after his arrest Aldyz was brought by police to a court hearing where he was read the charge against him — drug use, which police told his relatives could mean jail time of six months to two years.
Although the case was bailable, some police officers advised Aldyz’s relatives not to post bail. His life would be in more danger outside than inside jail. His relatives were told stories about inmates whose relatives would post bail only to hold a wake for the bailed offender shortly after.
One of such cases involved a friend of Aldyz’s. The man was freed on bail and his body was found inside a tricycle days later with multiple gunshot wounds in a case which people in his neighborhood wouldn’t openly talk about for fear authorities would train their guns on them next if the killing led to an investigation.
Such fear pervades relatives of Aldyz’s when they visit him. Well-meaning policemen at the station where Aldyz was being held had warned them their house could be under surveillance now.
Elders told Aldyz’s grown-up children not to follow in their father’s footsteps, or even throw parties at home as these could attract the attention of intelligence cops who would do what they, in these times, naturally do—tag the children as drug suspects, too.
Better in jail than outside
Other policemen explained to Aldyz’s relatives why keeping him in jail, instead of bailing him out, was a better option.
Bail would just be temporary liberty while serving time in jail would be an official record of Aldyz’s being punished for his crime and serve as some sort of a certificate that could attest to the fact that his punishment had been meted out already and need not be enforced anymore out in the streets by trigger-happy policemen, or worse, death squads.
Aldyz’s relatives couldn’t tell if the pieces of advice were good-intentioned but one relative agreed. Out in the streets, human beings like Aldyz are just data in police drug war records — a number deducted from the population of addicts spells success. Jail, even in subhuman conditions, is preferable.
After his arrest, the compound where Aldyz lived with his mother and siblings went quiet. At the height of his addiction, Aldyz would be throwing stones into windows, shouting expletives in the dead of night, challenge neighbors to fistfights, curse his own mother for refusing to let him into the house in his drug-crazed condition and keep small children awake by his shouts directed at nothing in particular.
The family endured those drug-induced fits of madness by Aldyz for years, seeming to lend credence to Duterte’s personal theory that once meth enters the brain, all human intellect is lost and the user is gone for good.
The absence of a drug addict in their midst gave Aldyz’s family a sense of peace. No more troublesome nights of Aldyz’s drug-crazed episodes, no more stones hitting the windows, no more shouts in the dead of night, no more children crying after being roused from sleep, no more dogs barking at the commotion of a mother trying to pacify a drug-crazed son.
There have been heated arguments in the family about Aldyz’s addiction, with some relatives expressing loss of hope that Aldyz, who had been sent to rehab some years ago, would ever be cured. Some had blamed his mother, triggering shouting matches between siblings who protested the blame game. If there’s anyone to blame, they said, it was Aldyz and only him.
His mother was advised not to visit lest she suffer a hypertensive attack seeing her son in such a condition. Strength lies in restraint, his mother was told, something that Aldyz failed to live by in his plunge into the dark world of drug use.
One of his siblings, a woman near her 40s, had tried to also restrain herself from visiting Aldyz in the police detention facility as a message to her brother that he chose a wayward path for which only he should be answerable.
“We should be strong it’s also for him,” the sister would tell their mother.
But one night the family got a call that Aldyz was already being moved out of the small police cell into a bigger detention facility for drug offenders. It was the family’s only chance to see Aldyz before he is transferred.
As the inmates were being loaded into a police vehicle, Aldyz saw his sister who didn’t want to visit as a punishment to him. “I’m sorry for this,” was all Aldyz could say in the brief period he was allowed to talk to his relatives before his transfer, “I know it’s my fault.”
Aldyz stood in handcuffs and his relatives were surprised when two other men stood on each side of Aldyz — inmates, too, who were cuffed with Aldyz. They didn’t say a word except to gesture at their wrists slowly suffering cuts from the cuffs as Aldyz stood.
One inmate was 18-years-old with mestizo features.
“I fear what will happen to him in jail,” Aldyz had told his relatives, thinking aloud about the possibility that the good-looking youngster would be raped in detention.
As Aldyz turned to board the police vehicle that would take him to a bigger detention facility to join countless of other drug suspects lucky to be alive, his shirt lifted to show skin unrecognizable from the sores that filled it, sores he got from just several days at the police jail.
His sister rushed to hug him, tears falling down her face and crying out a plea: “Please change. Become the good man you once were.”
She kept crying, alternating between loud wails of seeming hopelessness and quiet despair, as the police vehicle left with its red and blue blinkers shining on the tears falling down her cheeks.
She doesn’t know how long her brother would stay alive or if fate would give him another chance.
[Note: The names were changed upon the request of the detainee’s family. Some details, like exact locations and names of officials, were omitted for security reasons.]
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