Gideon Lasco




Dr. Gideon Lasco is a physician, medical anthropologist, and writer. He received his medical degree (MD) from the UP College of Medicine as part of the INTARMED program. From the same college he received a master’s degree in Medical Anthropology (MSc), and proceeded to take up his PhD in Medical Anthropology at the University of Amsterdam, where he is due to defend his dissertation in May 2017. Lasco’s research work ranges from indigenous medicine to hospital care, from young people’s illicit drug use to their use of herbal supplements. For his PhD dissertation he studied the meanings of height in the Philippines.


An Ethnography of Young Drug Users’ Experiences with Law Enforcement

Long before “Oplan Tokhang”, there has been an ongoing, decades-long war on drugs and there are belligerents: on one hand, the police and the government; and on the other hand, the drug users who carry the trilemma of being seen as immoral, criminal, and anti-social. Yet in their own world, many youths see drugs as useful in their everyday lives, and in response to how the outside world perceives them, they reciprocate the hostility and prejudice against them, particularly towards the police who they call “kalaban” (enemy).

This paper draws from an ethnography of urban poor youths in a Philippine port community from 2012-2013 to examine how their drug use is embedded in their everyday lives and intersects with the government and law enforcement apparatus, which they view with hostility. The study compares their insights with the perspectives of law enforcers and judges, drawing from key informants and secondary sources to reveal a fuller picture of the broader “war on drugs” as it is viewed by different actors.

Policy recommendations are presented based on the insights of my overall study. If indeed some young people find drugs “useful”, then they need to be moved away from a social and economic environment that engenders such usefulness in the first place.