A day after Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte joked that weed was his substance of choice to help him stay awake, his spokesperson reiterated that he is actually in favor of legalizing medical marijuana.
The president’s trusty spokesperson Salvador Panelo said this during a press briefing in the Malacañang Palace yesterday, once again cleaning up after his unpredictable boss.
“Well, the President already made a statement on that prior. He said for purposes of medicine to heal, he’s in favor, but not for use other than that,” Panelo said, as quoted by The Philippine Daily Inquirer.
He also gave examples of countries like Canada and the United States that have legalized marijuana use.
While Duterte has been cracking down on those who use and deal shabu (meth), he has always had a soft spot for weed.
“Medicinal marijuana — yes, because it is really an ingredient of medicine now,” Duterte told reporters in 2016. “There are medicines right now being developed or already in the market that contain marijuana as a component.”
However, two years later, marijuana remains illegal in the Philippines and those caught dealing and using it have still had to suffer the consequences.
In October, a Grade 9 student was arrested after he was caught with pot, which he said he uses to treat his asthma.
Legalizing marijuana would normally be celebrated — as it has been in other countries — but Duterte’s seemingly liberal viewpoint comes off as hypocritical.
Many were shocked and angered by Duterte’s remarks on Monday when he said that he uses marijuana to stay awake and keep up with a tight schedule. He said this as his administration continues its drug war that has killed thousands of people.
Shortly after the controversial statement, Duterte backtracked and said that he was just joking and that those who believed him are stupid.
In the press briefing, Panelo also said that Duterte was obviously joking because “there was no logic” in what the president said.
“He [Duterte] does it because usually, events are boring … First, marijuana is not a stimulant to make you awake. It’s the opposite, so obviously there was no logic there, so he was joking,” he said, according to Panay News.
But not many were laughing.
Human Rights Watch Asia Director Brad Adams called his joke “not funny” as more than 12,000 people have died since Duterte’s narcotics crackdown started in June 2016.
“Marijuana is illegal in the Philippines, and Duterte’s admission of using it – whether in jest or not – undermines the rationale for his ‘drug war’ and exposes its murderous hypocrisy. It adds cruel insult to injury for the victims and their families,” Adams wrote.
In fact, Chito Gascon, chief of the Philippines’ Commission on Human Rights, told ABS-CBN News show Bandila yesterday that there could be as many as 27,000 drug war deaths.
Apart from Duterte, some lawmakers have said that they are open to legalizing medical marijuana.
“Honestly, I’m okay with it because I know some of my friends whose children have epilepsy and it saved them,” Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri told ABS-CBN News.
Senator Panfilo Lacson, a former Police National Police chief, is open to the idea as well but said that marijuana should only be legal for medical purposes and not recreational use.
A bill that seeks to legalize medical marijuana is currently pending in the House of Representatives. If enacted, the Philippines would be the first country in Asia to legalize medical marijuana.