How different national and international perceptions would be if the Senate inquiry into the war on drugs had started by asking our drug agencies for a ‘fact sheet’ on the national drug problem and the national drug control policy! Then none of us would be wondering whether President Duterte is just pulling from thin air all his scare stories and statistics on the drug menace. Then we could see some justification at least for the police policy of shooting first and counting later.
With all respect to our womenfolk, I think Sen. Leila de Lima, despite being a former justice secretary, is too much of a congressional maiden to be leading the Senate inquiry into the administration’s war on drugs.
According to expert probers and Senate veterans, the first focus of the inquiry should have been to establish a clear picture of the drug problem in the country, instead of rushing to highlight or dramatize the casualties of the drug war and the anguish of their families.
The people who would know the drug problem best are the top officials of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) and the Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB). PDEA is tasked with enforcing our prohibitionist drug policy, while DDB sets broad policy in the government’s campaign against illegal drugs.
Sen. de Lima invited PDEA Director General Isidro Lapena to the hearing, but she noticeably forgot the chairman of the drugs board, Mr. Felipe Rojas, Jr.
Guest list of amateurs
And yet, the senator invited all the commissioners of the human rights commission, even some of its field officers.
She also invited the chairs of various civil society groups concerned with human rights issues, and the human rights centers of UP, Ateneo and La Salle.
To ensure publicity and coverage, she invited top representatives of ABS-CBN, GMA TV and the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
My point is this: Sen. Leila looked nearly everywhere for resource persons, except in the two agencies whose main business is to know the state and scope of the country’s real drug problem.
Her experts were self-styled human rights busy bodies, not people knowledgeable about the drug problem.
PH experts on drug problem
The president of the association of mother superiors, who was invited by Sen. de lima to the hearing, cannot possibly know more about the drug menace than the heads of PDEA and DDB, whose work has been focused on drug control for many years now. Drugs are the reason they hold these positions in government.
It is to them that we must turn first for information and an understanding of the so-called menace that is taking so many lives in our country.
These officials owe the nation, at the minimum, an authoritative fact sheet on the drug problem facing us today. To give them their due, here are briefs on their professional backgrounds and government service.
Mr. Isidro Lapena is the fifth director general of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA). He graduated in the Philippine Military Academy as a member of the Class of 1973.
Mr. Felipe L. Rojas, Jr. is the chairman of the Dangerous Drugs Board. A retired police deputy director general, he graduated from the Philippine Military Academy in1981.
The question is: do their offices keep up-to-date and coherent data and statistics on the Philippine illegal drug situation? What is their role, if any, in the administration’s war on drugs?
So to repeat, we need from these two agencies a fact sheet on the drug problem.
How serious is the drug problem?
I decided to write this column after reading recently a striking article in the online media website, Rappler.com, which sought to answer the question, “How serious is the Philippine drug problem?”
The authors are a group of graduate students from the University of the Philippines.
Their key findings are revealing:
1) In his first State of the Nation Address, President Rodrigo Duterte said that, based on data from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), there were about “3 million drug addicts” in the country, two or three years ago, and possibly higher at 3.7 million now.
2) A closer look shows that relevant drug law agencies came up with much lower official statistics in recent years
In 2008, a survey conducted by the Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) estimated a much lower figure of 1.7 million drug users nationwide (1.9 percent of the 2008 population). In 2012, the DDB, in cooperation with the Philippine Normal University, came up with a separate study that put the figure to be even lower at 1.3 million (1.3 percent of the 2012 population).
The DDB attributed this steep decline to supply and demand reduction efforts, like “intensified operations” of drug law enforcement agencies and “drug demand reduction programs.”
The DDB is set to release soon its latest estimates of drug use for 2015, which can serve as a good benchmark for assessing the administration’s drug war.
The research offers a thoughtful conclusion: “As the momentum of the current drug war increases, let’s all keep in mind why we are doing it in the first place: to reduce the prevalence of drug use….
“Policymaking around the world is becoming increasingly evidence-based. The same should apply to the country’s current drug policy. Here’s hoping that the statistics on drug use play a more prominent role in future discussions and evaluations of the intensifying drug war.”
A user is a pusher
I studied this research report alongside the disclosures of Philippine National Police (PNP) Director General Ronald dela Rosa at the Senate inquiry last week.
The general disclosed that 1,946 people have died in the government’s war on drugs.
He said police have shot dead 756 suspects in self-defense.
He said, separately, there are 1,190 deaths under investigation, but added they are likely due to drug gangs’ killings of people who could implicate them in illegal drug trade cases.
Last Sunday, Malacañang, through Communications Secretary Martin Andanar, declared that with hundreds of thousands of individuals surrendering to authorities for admitted drug use, the administration’s campaign against illegal drugs is a success.
Data from the PNP shows that nearly 600,000 drug users have surrendered to the authorities.
Why are drug users surrendering? Is drug addiction considered a crime today?
I got a blunt answer from President Duterte yesterday during his speech at the commemoration of National Heroes Day:
He declared: “A user is a pusher.”
It rhymes, and it is scary.