The Philippines has seen a rapid reversal in attitudes towards cannabis among its political elite. President Rodrigo Duarte joked that the stuff helps him stay alert last year. On Tuesday, former president and current House Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo hyped marijuana’s power to vanquish her persistent neck pain.
“As you know I have my problem here (cervical spine) and when I’m in a country that allows it, I put [on] a pain patch,” Arroyo told ABS CBN News. “But here in the Philippines I cannot do it.” Macapagal — the country’s former president — is one of the co-authors of House Bill 6517 a.k.a. the Philippine Compassionate Medical Cannabis Bill.
“I authored that bill because I believe that it can help me and many other people but there was a lot of objection to the bill from the House and from the Senate,” Arroyo told reporters. “That’s why we are just letting the legislative process take its course.”
Her neck pain bombshell may be seen as a further motivator for her fellow legislators, who are considering the bill for passage during the current congressional session.
It will not meet any resistance in the presidential palace. Duarte, well known for his horrific battle against low-level drug dealers and users at the start of his administration, recently and jocularly mentioned to the press that cannabis is what helps him make it through grueling conference schedules.
When the press, baffled by this seemingly dramatic turnaround, questioned his staff about the president’s policy views on cannabis, presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said, “The president already made a statement that he’s in favor of limited use of marijuana… logically, then he will support… and sign any bill that would be consistent with his stand.”
Arroyo’s HB 6517 would authorize the medicinal use by qualifying adults of cannabis in all forms except flower. There has been some debate over whether the legislation is necessary. Senate president Vicente Sotto III points out that Republic Act 9165, a.k.a. the Comprehensive Dangerous Act, states that lawmakers must “achieve a balance in the national drug control program so that people with legitimate medical needs are not prevented from being treated with adequate amounts of appropriate medications, which include the use of dangerous drugs.”
In October 2017, the Philippines’ FDA disclosed that it had been receiving on average 50 applications a month for medical marijuana use. As of September of 2017, it had approved 558 applications.
Sotto is unconvinced that the current and former presidents’ revelations merited brand-new legislation with such a pre-existing framework. “There is no need to pass a law since it is allowed already,” he told the Manila Times.
The island nation’s Miss Universe Catriona Gray is among those who have spoken out in favor of legalizing cannabis. “I’m for it being used in a medical use,” she commented in the pageant’s question and answer round, before winning the crown.
Neither the existing nor proposed bill decriminalizes marijuana beyond medicinal usage — notable in a country that has seen its president launch bloody police campaigns against street-level users and dealers.