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Plucking drug war figures out of thin air

The Philippine Development Plan (PDP) 2017-2022 maps out the overall thrust of our economy and society for that period. The priorities and targets of the PDP were guided by President Duterte’s 0-10 Point Socio-Economic Agenda. Among those priorities are the President’s anti-drug campaign (see Ch. 18 of PDP, titled “Ensuring Security, Public Order and Safety”).

In that chapter, Mr. Duterte reminds us that along with peace, ensuring security, public order and safety constitutes the bedrock of the Socio-Economic Agenda of his administration, and reducing all forms of criminality and illegal drugs is a priority.

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The chapter’s assessment of the drug problem is (p. 272): “The use of illegal drugs is prevalent in the country with around four million drug users and 47 percent of barangays throughout the country being drug-affected (PDEA, 2016). Three illegal transnational drug groups of African, Chinese, and Mexican Sinaloa origin operating in the country have greatly aggravated the drug problem.

“The government has therefore adopted a holistic approach.”

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This is where Vice President Leni Robredo’s report obtrudes on the government’s anti-illegal drugs campaign. She points out, among others, that there are several estimates of the number of drug users in the Philippines used by the government, from 1.8 million to 7-8 million.

The 1.8 million is the result of a Nationwide Survey on the Nature and Extent of Drug Abuse in the Philippines conducted by the Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) from Jan. 1, 2015 to February 2016. This number comprises “current drug users”—those who are

currently using or have used illegal drugs at least once during that period. The DDB conducts these surveys every four years (2008 survey showed 1.7 million users, 2012 showed 1.3 million users), but a recent executive order (2018) mandates a three-year period between surveys.

The 7-8 million (shabu users) is straight out of the horse’s mouth—the President, during the 2019 campaign trail. There was surprise from the DDB, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency and the Philippine National Police; nobody knew where he got the figure. But they accepted the figure, because the President has “unlimited sources of intelligence.” I kid you not, Reader. I thought that his sources of intelligence regarding drugs were precisely the DDB, the PDEA and the PNP. But as my son Ian is wont to say, “you can never can tell.”

But see the corner these agencies have painted themselves into by accepting the President’s estimates: If in 2016 the number of drug users was 1.8 million, and in mid-2019 it had ballooned to 7-8 million despite “Tokhang” and the surrenderers, the arrests and the killings that took place in that

period, the conclusion has to be clear as day. By the government’s own implicit admission, the anti-illegal drugs campaign, at least from the point of view of reducing demand, was a total, complete, dismal failure. I will not

use “massive,” because that’s the word the Vice President used, again using government data, to describe the attempt to reduce the supply of drugs.

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Where did the 4 million drug-user estimate used by the PDP come from? We are told it is an extrapolation by the PDEA. From what? If from previous surveys, no way can that 4-million figure be an extrapolation. Conclusion: The PDEA plucked it out of thin air. That is no way to run a drug war.

And what about the 47 percent of barangays in the country in 2016 that are drug-affected (no definition)? According to the PDP, this figure comes from the PDEA. But the PDEA had earlier reported that as of December 2015, 11,132 out of 42,036 barangays in the country (or 26 percent) were drug-affected. Wow. From 26 percent to 47 percent in the space of one year. We had a drug epidemic? Extrapolation explained.

All the above make it clear that Vice President Robredo’s recommendation that we should have reliable baseline data is rock-solid, not a colossal blunder. Only think. If the government in 2022 says that the number of drug users is estimated at 5 million, how are we to take it? If we use the 7-8 million as a baseline, that will be a rousing success. If we use the 1.8 million, or even the 4 million used in the PDP, the anti-illegal drugs campaign would be a resounding failure. Is this any way to run a drug war? (To be continued)—————-

[email protected]

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TAGS: Dangerous Drugs Board, drug war, illegal transnational drug groups, Philippine Development Plan
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