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Wasting opportunities

Media reports and independent research, using government and police records, had earlier flagged many of the key issues raised in Vice President Leni Robredo’s Icad (Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs) Report on the Drug War. They bear repeating. Still unsettled after three years, they explain why a task initially promised for completion in six months cannot be delivered, as President Duterte has admitted, even after six years.

These issues touch upon structure, policy and implementation: 1) lack of reliable figures on the extent of the country’s drug problem and an objective, transparent way of measuring the progress toward its resolution; 2) disproportionate focus on street-level enforcement of drug laws that deemphasized rehabilitation and reintegration; 3) damage done, not least to the Philippine National Police itself, by the “Tokhang” strategy perceived as abetting abuses, impunity, and police corruption; 4) continuing flow of drugs and the recycling of captured contraband; 5) impact on the country’s congested courts and prisons.

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The Robredo report organized available information into a coherent framework, correlated data, and identified missing and conflicting figures. It is neither exhaustive nor definitive, an unreasonable expectation given her unceremonious firing by Mr. Duterte after only 19 days in office. The government did not dispute the relevance of the report. It attacked the unfavorable performance evaluation of the drug war, making it appear even more negative than intended to project the judgment as unreasonable and unfair.

The report rated government control of drug supply a “dismal failure,” calculating that it captured only 1/100 or 1 percent of the estimated total shabu consumption. Onion-skinned officials rejected the 1-percent “grade,” but how would the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (or presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo) rate this performance? They can contest their own data, but the math is not a “wild assumption.” Countering the 1 percent score with surveys showing 80 percent satisfaction with the anti-drug campaign makes no sense; opinion polls cannot provide an accurate tally of drugs captured.

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But, whatever the true figures, the report gave the grade only to the goal of supply interdiction, not to the entire anti-drug campaign. The administration can easily evaluate and grade itself by publicly responding, with the suitable explanation, to yes-or-no questions posed by the report.

Has it implemented provisions to guide the drug war as mandated by Executive Order No. 15 (2017)? These included the formation of a National Anti-Drug Task Force and the promulgation of a uniform manual of regulations for the conduct of all anti-illegal drug operations. Did it conduct a nationwide survey in 2018 on drug prevalence in the country (EO 66)? Has the government established and rigorously followed a system for distinguishing drug users from pushers, who are subject to different penalties, or for handling offenders who voluntarily turn themselves in to authorities (Amended Comprehensive and Dangerous Drugs Act: Republic Act No. 9165, 2002)? Insults and threats have come from government, but no coherent, credible response to the report. After thousands of deaths, we still lack the foundation of a reliable, robust and transparent information system.

Without baseline data, we lack the benchmarks to determine the scale of the drug problem, monitor the progress we are making in addressing it, and measure the true costs and benefits of our efforts. The Department of the Interior and Local Government recently launched an Anti-Illegal Drugs Information System that promised to provide comprehensive and updated data on the drug war by the end of 2019. The lack of funds cited as the reason for the delayed 2018 survey on drug prevalence is surprising, given the President’s generous discretionary budgets. The new schedule calls for completion by the first quarter of 2020.

Forty-four percent of Social Weather Stations survey respondents believed Mr. Duterte sincerely wanted Robredo’s help in Icad. The administration could have taken credit for work produced under its aegis that documented the problems of the drug war and provided a platform for further analysis and action. It could have helped mobilize the support of the bureaucracy and the public for the government’s planned but woefully delayed initiatives to rationalize and strengthen the anti-drug campaign. The knee-jerk hostility to the Robredo Icad report unfortunately wasted an opportunity to help unite people and government behind a common approach to the drug problem.

Edilberto C. de Jesus is professor emeritus at the Asian Institute of Management. Business Matters is a project of the Makati Business Club ([email protected]).

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TAGS: Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs, leni robredo, President Duterte
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