The Challenges to Prohibition: Opium Law, Opium Smuggling, and Chinese in the Philippines, 1910–1935
Dondy Pepito G. Ramos II

Ramos II, Dondy Pepito Gamboa. 2023. “The Challenges to Prohibition: Opium Law, Opium Smuggling, and Chinese in the Philippines, 1910–1935.” China and Asia: A Journal of Historical Studies 4(2) [Special Issue: Chinese in Philippine History]: 243-69.


Opium was one of the issues that had to be resolved by the Americans upon their colonization of the Philippines. The debate on the potentialities of opium dates back to the Spanish colonial period, when the colonial government framed the opium issue as both economic and moral in nature. In the end, the economic potentialities of opium outweighed its moral repercussions because the Spanish colonial government allowed its regulated use among the Chinese. In contrast, the American officials in Manila crafted a progressive prohibitionist policy based on the recommendation of the investigative Opium Committee in 1905. In terms of opium in the Philippines, the majority of research has focused on the American policies on opium and their international consequences. This study focuses on the aftermath and challenges of the American prohibitionist policy from 1910 to 1935, particularly as they related to smuggling. Using archival documents such as annual reports from the governor-general of the Philippines and other government records, the paper aims to demonstrate how and in what ways opium was smuggled in the Philippines and to analyze the various motivations, reasons, and methods used by
smugglers. Furthermore, the paper explores the involvement of the Chinese in various notable opium-related cases in the Philippines. I also argue that an increase in the smuggling of opium was an unwanted aftermath of the American prohibitionist policy. The present study hopes to contribute to the growing body of literature on narcotics,
drug policies, and empire building.

Keywords: drug policy, opium smuggling, American empire, Chinese in the Philippines