As parents and as advocates, we have tackled many issues involving children, the youth, and family. We are also parents of children who are in this concert-going age. We have a lot of questions. By asking these questions now, we hope to put perspective into this unfortunate incident and find ways to close any loopholes. – Noemi and Jane
Noemi: It’s been more than 10 years since my girls left high school. It was a nightmare for me every time they would ask permission to go “clubbing” or attend concerts with friends. We feared that they would be offered ecstasy or some dangerous drug. No matter how responsible we believe our children are, once they are in the company of peers, one can never tell what may happen. A lot of it is just personal responsibility on the kids’ part. The tragedy of the ‘CloseUp Forever Summer’ 2016 music festival or concert, due to possible “party drugs” concerns parents. What a senseless tragedy. If only this could have been avoided. It could have happened to any of our children or our children’s friends.
As parents, I believe it’s our responsibility to protect our children but we can’t do it alone. I want other parents to be empowered and understand what happens inside social gatherings so safety measures can be suggested not only to parents and children but to the organizers and law enforcers as well.
Concert tragedies are a parent’s worst nightmare. I know…because my two girls were almost seriously injured (or worse) in a concert some years back. They were pinned against a queue barrier when over-enthusiastic people started pushing to get in. Rampant drugs, in many private and public parties these days, add to my concerns. The Closeup Forever Summer concert, from tweets I have been reading, was a success from a performance standpoint. But the alleged drug-related deaths brought out its ugly, often hidden, side. I cannot blame the parents of those who died for reacting the way they did. I would want answers myself. But, as a blogger who has attended media events, big and small, I am also aware that preparations are handled by multiple parties, depending on their expertise, to make everything come together.
The Drug Scene
Noemi: It made me wonder if there were similar concert or music festival deaths outside the Philippines. True enough, I discovered that in the USA alone, a wave of well-publicized overdoses at music festivals in 2013 raised concern about the safety of festival-goers. Just a week after this local tragedy, at least 2 dead and nearly 60 others were hospitalized after a Florida music festival. Both victims in Florida overdosed on drugs. It looks like drugs in music events are becoming a part of the party scene. Law enforcers should know this. I am sure they are aware of the alarming statistics in our country. More than 8,000 barangays in the country are plagued with the drug menace. Metro Manila barangays have the highest rate of being drug-affected, with 92.10 percent of the region’s barangays affected.
Someone posted this image of different drugs on Facebook and I actually forwarded it to my kids so they can recognize these drugs.
Then, as I was trying to read about green amore, the pill that supposedly caused the concert deaths, I saw this infographic about green amore in an article.
Image source: tapatnews.com
Green amore, also known as ‘fly high’, ‘party’, ‘superman’, is ecstasy (MDMA), shabu and cialis (milder form of Viagra) rolled into one. This is purportedly what the victims in the Closeup concert took — a very potent combination.
For social drinking, we’re told to always stick to one alcoholic drink rather than mix alcoholic drinks because different alcoholic drinks would hit us sooner and harder. That’s probably the same with illegal drugs. If those who died at the concert had taken green amore with some alcohol, not only would they have felt the effect of 3 drugs all at once but it would have also come sooner than later because alcohol enhances drug effects. The NBI and police confirmed that four of the fatalities took party drugs whose damaging effects on their internal organs were enhanced by alcohol.
Here’s another thing I read. Green amore pills are usually designed for sharing up to 8 people. Did the victims take these pills entirely by themselves? I can’t imagine its effect on someone who does. Most likely fatal. I don’t have access to the autopsy reports of those who died but the descriptions in the news of how their innards looked horrify me.
The ecstasy drug has been “popular among dance music enthusiasts for decades, but the drug has begun to change in recent years, and these changes have led to many adverse outcomes, including death”. I also read that a concert-goer claimed “drug pushers freely roamed during the concert”. She said her friend was able to purchase “red amore” for P700 per capsule and “green amore” for P1,500 during the concert. Even if drug pushers are around, the buying and selling of prohibited drugs has gone online. More people are buying ecstasy, cocaine on the internet, a global drug survey shows.
Where Were the Gaps?
Noemi: The security plans looked excellent for general safety but not so much for drug-related situations. The plan included the police who “were asked to support and participate in the planning and implementation of the event by providing expert assistance in regard to security planning and identifying potential dangers and hazards in events of this type. They were also requested to provide police assistance outside and inside the venue during the event for increase police presence.”
What “expert assistance” did they provide? I’d expect the local government and the Philippine National Police (PNP) to consider the possible drug use in any social gathering be it at a concert or barangay hall, knowing that 9 out of 10 barangays in Metro Manila are plagued by the menace of illegal drugs.
The security plan clearly showed a poster of prohibited items. Illegal drugs were in the list. I also watched a video of reminders regarding security procedures and noted that the RFID wristbands worn by all concert-goers prevented minors from having access to alcoholic drinks. There were medical teams and standby ambulances in the vicinity.
Telling people that drugs are prohibited is one thing. Actually expecting them to follow it is another. When people deliberately want to violate procedures, they will find creative ways to get around these. This article listed 14 ways these illegal drugs are sneaked into music events: in their crotch (or underwear), taped to the leg, shoes and socks, hidden in hair, saran-wrapped in wallets, mint cans, lip balm tubes, tampons, deodorants, bras, pens, flashlight compartments, and inhalers. They are even hidden in false cap linings! The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) allegedly found a lot of inhalers at the concert grounds. Are we to believe all its owners were asthmatics? Body frisking was also part of the entrance search at the Closeup concert, according to security plan. Two separate friskings! Still, no drugs were found on the person of any concert-goer. In all honesty, I do not know if it is actually realistic to expect to find well-hidden illegal drugs just by frisking.
I’d like to think that the different, creative ways that users and drug pushers hide drugs to avoid detection in events is part of law enforcers’ training as provided for in the Dangerous Drugs Act (DDA) . Shouldn’t they have been proactive enough to strongly advise the use of drug-sniffing dogs and more stringent body searches?
I can’t believe the police did not see any suspicious activity. Zero arrests during the event itself? In the Florida Music Festival, Tampa Police reported “25 felony arrests, eight misdemeanor arrests and 16 marijuana civil citations . Drug-sniffing dogs were used to screen people going in.” In fact, Tampa police attributed the relatively low total of 33 arrests and 16 marijuana civil citations to “drug-sniffing dogs stationed at the festival’s gates by private security, and an effort to make more arrests toward the start of the event.”
The constantly evolving formulation of illegal drugs poses a real challenge for law enforcers and K-9 dogs that have to continually train and update on the cocktail drugs — their shape, smell, symptoms, effects.
If law enforcers know, from training, that drugs are likely in such huge and public events, their proactive advice to the organizers during planning to bring in the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), reinforce roving enforcers inside the venue, and bring in drug-sniffing dogs would have been very helpful.
Are our K-9 dogs trained to sniff out drugs that have the combined scent of several ingredients? How often do they and their handlers undergo training updates to cover emerging forms of illegal drugs?
The event company claimed police were INSIDE the perimeter. They backed their claim with several photos showing uniformed police walking among the crowd.
Aside from police in uniform, there were apparently some cops in civilian, inside the concert venue, as well. Pasay City Police chief, Superintendent Joel Doria said “undercover policemen deployed inside the concert venue did not report any crime happening.” “Meron tayong intelligence personnel fielded sa loob. Meron silang mga wristbands. Nakakalat sila sa loob ng event venue”.
How can the presence of cops inside the venue be explained and what were they watching out for? How come none of the cops roaming inside the venue spotted any drug use or made any arrests during the concert, if drug-use was really as prevalent as some alleged concert-goers claim?
I know we have a law to fight against drug abuse in the Philippines. The training provision of the Dangerous Drugs Act of 1972 , Sec 81 (g) states that the PDEA will “design special trainings in order to provide law enforcement officers…to meet the objectives of the national drug control programs” .
Shouldn’t the PNP have been able to spot trouble, either in the event itself, or in the planning, briefing or dry runs the organizer said they conducted? How exactly were the PNP trained? Can they detect the possession of dangerous drugs during a party, or at a social gathering or meeting ?
I saw a photo of the Central Control Room monitoring several CCTVs placed all around but it appeared to be manned only by a civilian.
Is it standard security protocol to have a civilian man the Central Control Room? Was there a law enforcer assigned to the Central Control Room to help spot illegal or violent goings-on? Maybe this should be standard protocol in the future.
What Must We All Do?
Noemi and Jane:
This terrible concert tragedy has opened everyone’s eyes to the magnitude of drug use and we are alarmed.
The loss of a child affects us all. It’s difficult to wrap our brains around the idea that a child had a fun Saturday night with their friends and never made it home. This is not the way things should be. We want to feel secure that when we send them off to enjoy themselves at such events, we get to see them safe back home with a lot of stories to share.
As parents, we would like to think that law enforcers have all the right to stop crime if they suspect something is going on in the vicinity of their watch.
It bothers us that boundaries such as perimeter jurisdiction are used by law enforcers when they are precisely there to be the security eyes and ears for the organizers. If there are crimes in their vicinity, they have the right to close in and act. If they suspect something is going on, even if they have no “physical jurisdiction”, they can alert organizers so they can gain access.
It bothers us that drugs were apparently not of primary concern by all parties concerned, from the looks of how the security plan was executed. If drugs were considered a serious risk, drug-sniffing dogs would have been top of mind for both law enforcers and organizers, even as early as the planning stages and these dogs would have been part of continuing sweeps as people entered the concert area and during the concert itself. We hope all future events such as these will place the drug menace in the top priority when it comes to modes of security.
Wisdom usually is based on hindsight. But now it shows that there are steps that we all need to take to address the drug menace more effectively, collectively.
We must educate our children and society in general, provide them with sufficient drug information (how to recognize it, avoid it, and its ill effects). More importantly, we must teach them how to say NO to drugs. Drugs may evade detection in any event but it is eventually up to the individual person to take responsibility for his/her well-being and refuse to take anything that smacks of drugs.
Training on drug abuse and detection is more crucial now than ever before. Both law enforcers and their K-9 teams play a very critical role in many public events and they need to step up their skills in preventing, detecting, and handling drug-related incidents.
It is also high time for the PNP, PDEA, or any other body trained in drugs, to finally give clear guidelines to officers of the law and event organizers alike, who are involved in public events, on how to keep dangerous drugs, and the people who traffic them, out. Perhaps a zero tolerance drug policy, adopted in other music festivals around the world, is worth considering here already.
Nothing is ever going to be 100% fail-safe but we need to do what needs to be done to minimize the risks. What is crucial is the health and safety of the youth attending these events.
Parents, the concert-goers, the law enforcers, security agencies, and the event organizers share a responsibility in ensuring a fun and safe concert for everyone. It must be stressed that based on the DDA, the law enforcement agencies take the lead in safeguarding the “wellbeing of its citizenry particularly the youth, from the harmful effects of dangerous drugs on their physical and mental well-being, and to defend the same against acts or omissions detrimental to their development and preservation.” It is better to be more safe than sorry.
All images except for the Green Amore and the drugs, were taken from this article. Some rights reserved.