In a recent speech in Manila, President Rodrigo Duterte claimed that two policemen die every day in his ongoing war on drugs in the country, a claim that is now widely known in the country.
However, this claim does not match up with police statistics, which indicated that from Duterte’s launching of his “war on drugs” on July 1 until October 12, thirteen police officers were killed. This can be translated to an average of one police dying every eight days because of the battle on illegal drugs.
According to a review of official government data and interviews with top anti-drug officials of the president conducted by Reuters, there are already numerous dubious claims that Duterte used to justify his anti-drugs campaign.
Officials revealed that the data presented to the public on the total number of drug users, the number of users needing treatment, the types of drugs being consumed and the prevalence of drug-related crime are either exaggerated, flawed, or non-existent. However, these officials also defended that the error in the statistics has but little relevance as long as the campaign shifted the focus of the country to the long-neglected crisis in the Philippines which is drugs.
“I don’t see it as a problem. Before our fight against dangerous drugs was a lonely battle. Now, everybody’s helping us—the community is helping us,” Wilkins Villanueva, the Metro Manila regional director for the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) said.
The original tally of deaths because of police operations related to drugs is 3,600 but this had been revised this month, claiming that only 2,300 people died in drug-related police operations ever since Duterte took office on June 30.
Duterte claimed during his State of Nation Address on July 25 that there were 3.7 million “drug addicts” in the Philippines and that he has to “slaughter these idiots for destroying my country.”
However, main drug policy and research unit, Office of the President’s Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB), conducted a survey in 2015 and results showed that the actual drug users in the Philippines are fewer than half of what the President claimed.
Duterte refers to all drug users as “addicts” but the DDB data showed that one-third of the 1.8 million users had only one drug intake in the span of 13 months. Only 860,000 of them consumed crystal meth, or shabu, which is the drug that is widely blamed by officials for the high crime rates and social ills in the country. Most of them are marijuana users.
A senior Philippines law enforcement officer who preferred to be anonymous said that the “arbitrary” figures of the president is only putting pressure on the police and government officials.
“The problem is, every time the president says something, it’s already some sort of a policy statement. We have to toe the line.”
The officer revealed that in the past three months, more than 700,000 people surrendered to the police. However, authorities are expected to turn in 1.8 million “surrenderers” so that there will be a match with the DDB data.
“That’s the reason we are having a hard time. We need to produce,” he added. “Even if we add up everything…we are not even close to 1.8 million.”
According to a drug-treatment specialist, statements by the President as well as by government officials fails to separate users and problem users and also distinguish users of shabu and marijuana.
Director of a University of Adelaide research center on drug and alcohol treatment who also works with the World Health Organization, Robert Ali, said that shabu and marijuana are very different substances “in terms of risk profiles and harm.”
Ali also said that although drug-problem is really big in the Philippines, it is hard to create an effective national response if the only basis is flawed data.
An official booklet called“Winning the First Phase of the Drug War” that was distributed by the president’s media team in the regional summit in Laos in September which was attended by world leaders, claimed that 75% of the “heinous crimes” in the Philippines are drug-related.
This “heinous crimes” include murder, rape, human trafficking, and treason.
The booklet cited the Philippines National Police Directorate for Investigation and Detective Management (DIDM) as the source of the statistics but six officials from the mentioned office and the people behind the booklet failed to identify a specific study which showed these statistics.
Crime index in the Philippines that was presented in a Senate hearing on extrajudicial killings on October 5 showed that it dropped 31% from January to August this year in comparison to the same period of last year.
Government officials view this as a result of Duterte’s “war on drugs.” However, police statistics showed that there was already a decline in crime rate during Former President Benigno Aquino’s term where an anti-drugs campaign was not conducted.
Moreover, the statistics that was used during the Senate hearing were the crime rate data where most of the time period was during Aquino’s presidency.
Villanueva of PDEA said that Duterte’s claim that there are 3.7 million drug addicts in the Philippines “doesn’t mean anything.” He also said that he believed the President has his own survey aside from the one from DDB. “But it’s not a scientific one.”
According to Villanueva, the important point is that resources are being exhausted in order to succeed in this ongoing anti-drugs campaign. He added that the PDEA are now in the process of hiring and training 400 more agents. The agency is also expected to receive more firearms, vehicles, and surveillance equipment.
Former DDB chief and a supporter of Duterte’s war on drugs, Senator Vicente Sotto, said that these figures actually serve a purpose as long as it scares users into quitting drugs.
“If they make people alarmed, then why not? It doesn’t hurt anyone,” Sotto said. “People don’t care how it’s done as long as it’s done.”