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Fuzzy drug war facts and figures

The most important thing we learn from Vice President Leni Robredo’s report as cochair of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (Icad) is just how the nation has come to grief because of the Duterte administration’s wishy-washy statistics on the antidrug war. There is no “all of government” approach where the agencies involved in the drug war habitually coordinate with one another with regard to the magnitude of the total drug challenge, the drug supply and the number of drug syndicates and personalities.The drug war “facts” constantly released by various officials involved in the drug war are a constant mixture of cavalierly dished out ballpark figures that somehow calcify into “official facts.” Under these conditions, there is no systematic way in which at the strategic level, the drug war can be reasonably assessed. At best, there is only tactical understanding or assessment of the antidrug war.The antidrug agencies may have been more circumspect with data in the past. But President Duterte has lowered the standards for critical government statistics. From Day One, he has set himself up as the fount of true information on the drug war and drug personalities, periodically bandying about a drug personality matrix, even though he has had to occasionally apologize for inaccuracies they contained.

Mr. Duterte hated his authoritativeness regarding the antidrug war being contradicted. He removed two successive Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) chiefs for disputing his “facts.” In 2017, Mr. Duterte sacked DDB chief Benjamin Reyes who said there were 1.8 million drug users in the country when the President had been saying there were 4 million drug users. Mr. Duterte told Reyes: “You do not contradict your own government.” Then the President sacked Reyes’ replacement, Dionisio Santiago, who was quoted as saying the Nueva Ecija megadrug rehabilitation center was a mistake. Understandably, antidrug officials have since stayed clear of “validating” Mr. Duterte’s facts and figures.

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And that was fine. Until VP Leni came on the scene on what is clearly a colossal blunder on the part of Mr. Duterte. In 18 days, she was given a peep at this huge, dark movie studio called the “Duterte drug war.” Her keen mind took in so much more strategic understanding of the totality of the drug war than the production staff themselves. She simply reported to the people what she saw. And what she saw were mental images for magnifying the drug problem, bloating accomplishments and skirting critical issues.

Now she is being pilloried for telling us—and the world—the truth. But the Robredo report speaks for itself. If Mr. Duterte and his minions say she has it wrong, only a more competent and credible report can repudiate her report. The Duterte regime will be hard put to produce such a document. Even fake news cannot remanufacture the essential shape of the reality of the antidrug war over the past three-and-a-half years.

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The Robredo report is easy to misjudge without reading it. It mentions “failure” only on two points: “supply constriction, as an aspect of the overall strategy against illegal drugs, has been a massive failure” and “clearly, there was a failure to ensure that effective complementary systems [of the treatment and rehabilitation program, the criminal justice system, and the prevention component] were established and institutionalized.” The report’s overwhelmingly positive reformist tone is clear from the frequent use of words such as rehabilitation, policy, strategy, system, plan, amend and recommend.

One major popular misconception on the Robredo report is that the Vice President prepared the report herself. It is clear from the comprehensiveness, sharpness, coherence, presentation style and probity of the document that a professional group of policy analysts prepared the report, under the guidance and instruction of the Vice President. As far as policy research and analysis papers go, this is by far the most comprehensive analysis of the antidrug campaign of the Duterte administration. If there were a more competent recent document, it would have been cited in the literature. Better, Malacañang would have taken it out and used it to contradict the Robredo report and embarrass her.

Surely, the antidrug agencies are now challenged to come up with a similar report. They will find out, as they come up with an honest, competent and credible report of their own, that it will look uncannily like the Robredo report.

The Duterte administration now needs to reverse-engineer the Robredo report—look at its breadth and depth, style and sources and match it. If Mr. Duterte cuts them loose, the combined talent of all of the antidrug agencies of the government may be able to match the Robredo report in the remaining days of the Duterte administration. If they dare do that, however, they may end up being sacked like Reyes and Santiago.

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TAGS: drug war, ICAD, leni robredo, On The Move, Rodrigo Duterte
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