“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.”
— Daniel Patrick Moynihan
Moynihan’s witty dictum applies in all contentions in public life. It, too, must apply in the drug war that has enveloped our national life like a boa constrictor ever since Mr. Rodrigo Duterte became our President.
My repeated request through this column for a fact sheet on the Philippine drug problem – which can serve as a benchmark for evaluating the drug war – has suddenly been rewarded in spades. I find myself swimming now in a sea of facts and statistics.
First, the Dangerous Drugs Board, our drug control policy-making body, presented on Monday, Sept. 19, the results of its 2015 survey of drug use in the country – the latest official figures hereabouts.
Second, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), also on Monday, released a veritable “mother of all reports” on the drug war – a comprehensive and incisive review of the administration’s campaign, first taking off from DU30’s anti-drug campaign in Davao City and landing in the frontlines of the current nationwide war effort.
The substantive facts provided by these reports undercut the extravagant claims of the President’s declaration of war on drugs.
Just as in George W. Bush’s war on Iraq, wherein the White House fruitlessly searched for the war-justifying weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) of Saddam Hussein, so Malacañang is hard put to find the drug pandemic (a characterization supplied by one Palace communicator) to justify the brutality of the drug war.
Where’s the pandemic?
When President Duterte launched the war on drugs at his inauguration, he had only a gut feeling about the scale of the problem. But he went hammer and tongs on the issue. He declared that there are some 3.7 million or more drug users or addicts in the country. And he promised the nation a relentless and bloody war against illegal drugs.
When we set the thoroughly researched figures of DDB and PCIJ, side by side with DU30’s figures, the discrepancy is so wide it is hard not to think that President Duterte has supplied his own facts to justify the drug war and its heavy toll on human life. President Duterte is unarguably entitled to his own opinion and alarm about the drug menace threatening our society. But he is not entitled to manufacture his own facts as he wars with persons allegedly involved in the drug trade as either supplier or consumer.
It is in a way commendable that the drugs board, under its newly appointed chairman, did not venture to adjust upward the survey results, in order to level up to the President’s hyperbolic portrayal of the length and breadth of the drug menace.
DDB survey and fact sheet
The survey commissioned by the Dangerous Drugs Board estimates that there are 1.8 million current drug users in the Philippines, or 1.8 percent of the total population of 100.98 million.
The 2015 Nationwide Survey on the Nature and Extent of Drug Abuse in the Philippines, released on Monday, reported that the current drug use prevalence among Filipinos aged 10 to 69 years is at 2.3 percent, or an estimated 1.8 million users.
Filipinos aged 10 to 69 years comprise 75 percent of the total Philippine population as of 2015.
Current drug users refer to individuals who are currently using or have used illegal drugs more than once from Jan. 1, 2015, until Feb. 5, 2016.
The 2015 figure is higher than the 1.3 million drug users estimated in 2012 and 1.7 million estimated in 2008.
Commissioned by the DDB, the new survey on the national drug abuse situation was conducted by Resources, Environment and Economics Center for Studies Incorporated (REECS) from Dec. 5, 2015 to Feb. 5, 2016, among 5,000 respondents across the Philippines. It has a ±0.9 margin error.
The 2015 survey results show that the lifetime drug use prevalence is around 6.1 percent of the same sample population.
This means that 4.8 million Filipinos have used illegal drugs at least once in their lives – less than the estimated 7.1 million in 2008.
DDB Chairman Benjamin Reyes says the government’s drug campaign needs to focus on prevention to “curb the problem.”
“As much as possible, we are trying to prevent the 4.8 million to not try using illegal drugs again,” he said. “Our key message to them is for them not to use illegal drugs because the retention rate is high.”
Retention rate refers to the percentage of drug users that will continually use a specific illegal drug.
The 2015 survey results show that drug retention rate is currently at 28 percent for shabu and 24.7 percent for marijuana.
DDB and other government agencies will use the findings of the latest survey to curb the drug problem.
Reyes explained: “The findings have implications on policy and implementation of the anti-illegal drugs campaign. We need to recalibrate our programs based on the findings.”
For example, while most current drug users thought about quitting illegal drugs, it is not common for them to initiate seeking medical help.
Reyes says that different government agencies, such as the Department of Health (DOH) and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), will soon implement community-based treatment and rehabilitation for drug users to complement the law enforcement efforts of the Philippine National Police (PNP).
The government has nominally a balanced approach to the drug problem. Unfortunately, however, what is highlighted is law enforcement, and there is not enough interest in the treatment and rehabilitation approach.
DU30 does not promote balance when he declares that “a drug user is a drug pusher,” or that drug addicts are hopeless human beings just awaiting death.
War on drugs: a chaos of numbers
The report of the PCIJ, entitled “War on drugs: No EO signed by DU30, a chaos of numbers,” provides a different perspective on the drug situation. http://pcij.org/stories/war-on-drugs-no-eo-signed-by-du30-a-chaos-of-numbers/
The report consists of:
A narrative account of President Duterte’s campaign against drugs from his time as Davao City mayor to his current position as President;
Various facts and statistics selected or highlighted to serve a journalistic point;
A number of interviews with police and government officials; and
The shocking revelation that the drug war is not backed up by an official executive order.
The report is comprehensive, incisive and unsparing. If DU30’s drug war seeks to leave no hole for drug suspects to hide in; this report leaves no room for official double-talk, and no shelter for false claims and false statistics.
The report is most impressive and entertaining in tackling what it calls the chaos, or see-saw, of numbers in the drug war – based on reports of the Philippine National Police (PNP).
It opens in dramatic fashion:
“More than 20 years ago, Davao City was turned into the laboratory for its then Mayor Rodrigo R. Duterte’s war against illegal drugs. Now that he is President, Duterte has mounted a reprise of that war across the nation, saying that he is ready to put his honor, life, and presidency on the line for it.
“This time around, Duterte commands an armed contingent that is a hundred times bigger than it was in Davao, and his “enemy” a thousand times more numerous. The “achievements” and casualty toll of his war are thus multiple times higher, even if it has been only 80 days since he was sworn into office.”
It closes with an anecdote on DU30’s grotesque definition of Utopia.
Six more months of war
This fact sheet and report are, I submit, must reading for all those who want to know and understand the Philippine war on drugs – its background, its progress, and its prospects.
They will be useful in evaluating the plan of the administration and the PNP to extend the duration of the drug war by six more months, and the determination of the President to fight off any attempt by the international community and civil society to hold the government to account for violations of the rule of law and human rights.