The 1-percent calamity

/ 04:07 AM January 07, 2020

Vice President Leni Robredo’s modestly titled “Co-chairperson’s Report” accepts as uncontested fact the Duterte administration’s official assumptions about the illegal drugs problem in the Philippines. That the “scourge of illegal drugs … is a matter of serious and urgent concern”; that fighting it is the “centerpiece program” of the administration; that is “the President’s vision” to have “drug-free communities by 2022.” It gives the administration the repeated benefit of the doubt, particularly in regard to the fatal consequences of the antidrugs campaign’s signature tactic, the “tokhang.” It argues that the lack of guidelines and the amount of discretion given to the police in implementing these house-to-house visits, rather than its very design, “provided an opening for unscrupulous individuals to commit abuses, tainting the integrity of the whole institution in the process.” And yet despite these concessions, the report paints a damning picture of a “massive failure.”The report, publicly available on different news websites, focuses on five “significant gaps” discovered in the course of Robredo’s 18 days as cochair of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs, or Icad. The fifth gap is the worst.

“A serious effort to constrict supply requires us to have an idea on the total volume and value of illegal drugs circulating in the country. For some reason that has yet to be explained, while the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency reports the total volume of illegal drugs seized year-on-year as one of its accomplishments, these figures are not analyzed in relation to the estimated total consumption. As admitted by the agency, it is currently not computing estimated total consumption.”


This is a puzzling omission—but to be completely fair to law enforcement agencies, the news media by and large failed to ask questions about it, too. (This suggests a failure to either go beyond official statistics or to think in terms of systems.) But consider how curious it would be for a police official to say x number of murders were solved, without relating that to the total number of murders committed in the same period; or for a health official to say y number of patients have recovered from the measles, without relating that to the total scope of the measles outbreak; or for a trade official to say z number of smuggled luxury cars were impounded, without relating that to the total number of such cars smuggled into the country.

The report continues: “According to the head of the PNP DEG, and as part of this … earnest effort to estimate the total consumption of illegal drugs in the country, the approximate minimum consumption of shabu in the country every week is 3,000 kilograms, using the estimate of 3 million users or 0.001 kilograms per user.”


To be clear, what follows is an extrapolation, but it is based on the police’s own estimate of weekly consumption. Given 52 weeks in a year, the total estimated yearly consumption of shabu in the Philippines must be around 156,000 kg. And how much of this shabu is seized?

In 2017, only 1,053.91 kg, or 0.68 percent. In 2018, only 785.31 kg, or an even more abysmal 0.50 percent. And in the 10 months of 2019 from January to October, only 1,344.87 kg, or 0.86 percent.

The chilling conclusion: “The percentage of shabu seized is less than 1 percent of the total estimated consumption of shabu. Despite the government’s aggressive implementation of Project: ‘Double Barrel’ that was supposed to ferret out drug laboratories and other sources of supply, as well as users and pushers, a staggering percentage of illegal drugs, particularly shabu, is still in circulation.”

Put another way: In 2019, less than half of the estimated WEEKLY consumption was seized the entire YEAR. This is like the Duterte administration cutting off the supply of shabu this week by half — and then doing absolutely nothing the rest of 2020.

The Robredo report makes specific recommendations to bridge the worrying gaps discovered; more cynical voices familiar with the illegal drugs problem will suggest that the gaps are deliberate, that the Duterte administration is invested in having a permanent drugs crisis. (See, for instance, the administration’s appalling assertion that the number of illegal drug users has even grown during the last three years.) But the report makes clear that even if you gave the administration the most generous benefit of the doubt, its centerpiece program is a human rights catastrophe, and an epic fail.

[On Twitter: @jnery_newsstand, email: [email protected]]

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TAGS: drug war, john Nery, leni robredo, Newsstand, Rodrigo Duterte
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