WHENEVER I return to a subject that I have previously discussed, I do so with much reluctance, because I dread the monotony (for both the writer and the reader). But sometimes, I am impelled to tread again paths earlier traveled. And it is good to know from time to time that one’s exertions are being heard or having an effect.
Over the weekend, I had a discussion with readers who were troubled by my column last Saturday (“PDEA contends its drug statistics are real, not false” Times. May 20, 2017), wherein I yielded my column space to a letter from PDEA disputing my opinion that the agency relayed fake, unproven, drug statistics to the public. Some opined that the PDEA explanation muddled the situation, and raised more questions than it resolved. It used questionable statistical methods to construct its new drug statistics.
Why are the numbers not the same?
Three sets of questions are being asked about PDEA’s new statistics, and they should be answered so they can be clearly understood.
1. Why are the numbers not the same? And why so many counts?
Law enforcers and drug enforcers are all engaged at great public expense in the war against drugs, but they cannot even harmonize their data on the real drug situation in the country.
Law enforcers and drug officials are themselves mystified and bewildered by the huge differences between the drug counts of President Duterte, the Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB), the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) and the Philippine National Police (PNP).
Since the administration was going to war against illegal drugs, why did it have no single, reliable count of the enemy which it was facing—or a reliable idea of the extent of the problem which it sought to exterminate.
The answer is that none of the agencies has been focused on the drug problem for over a decade. No agency had a secure working count or estimate of the drug situation.
Over the weekend also, it appears that the government has moved towards collating, harmonizing and synchronizing their statistics on the drug situation.
As if to salute PDEA’s bold defense of its drug statistics in the Manila Times, the PNP announced that it has turned over to PDEA the task of releasing to the media and the public the number of persons who have surrendered, were killed or arrested in the course of the campaign against illegal drugs.
The PNP had to make the move because conflicting figures or statistics related to the drug war have resulted in confusion and outrage in the public and the international community.
Dennis Siervo, director of the PNPO Human Rights Office, proudly announced: “We will be speaking with one voice.”
Siervo said that asking PDEA to take over the job of releasing official figures in the illegal drug campaign is covered under Executive Order 15, which also created the inter-Agency Committee on Illegal Drugs (ICAD).
PDEA now lead drug agency
Under the executive order, PDEA is now the lead agency in the anti-drug campaign.
During one meeting of the committee, law enforcement and drug officials were both asking, how come the figures relating to the drug campaign are not the same?
Up to now, they are still a long way from harmonizing or synchronizing their numbers. Perhaps speaking with one voice is a step in the right direction.
Duterte’s four-million estimate a mistake
Since President Duterte started the war on drugs with an estimate of 4 million drug addicts in the country, did he pull the number from thin air, or did he work with our drug agencies and the PNP? Did he do his own fact-finding survey?
Similarly, how did he put together his multiple lists of drug coddlers in government, the police and the military; and how did he come up with the list of drug lords and drug traffickers? Did PDEA work with him in creating those lists?
PDEA now says officially that Duterte’s initial estimate of 4 million drug users/dependents was mistaken. It was most likely more than that. Earlier surveys and estimates were likely mistaken because drug users do not normally tell the truth about their drug habits. Drug surveys, such as those conducted for the DDB, are off the mark.
3. If PDEA’s statistics have been extrapolated or derived from the number of surrenderers in the PNP drug campaign, is this method of extrapolating numbers statistically valid and reliable?
PDEA says: “As of April 20, 2017, a total of 7,760,795 households, or 34 percent of the 22,975,630 total number of households in the country (source: Philippine Statistics Authority), have been visited by personnel of the Philippine National Police (PNP) in the conduct of “Oplan Tokhang” revisited. The ‘knock-and-plead’ campaign led to the voluntary surrender of 1,266,966 drug personalities, comprised of 88,940 pushers and 1,178,026 users, nationwide. These surrenderers, who admitted their involvement i“Using the formula of ratio and proportion: the number of houses visited is to the number of drug surrenderers is equal to the total number of households nationwide is to X. Based on the statistical computation, with a margin of error of 20 percent, or those who remained uncooperative with law enforcers during the house visitation, it is therefore proper to say that the real number of drug users in the Philippines has reached 4.7 million.”
Are we to say now that 4.7 million is the official count of the drug users/dependents in the country?
4. Assuming that the Dangerous Drugs Board was correct in its report of 1.8 million drug users as of 2015, and at the start of the drug war, why did the number double when the drug war was raging and in a span of only 10 months?
Did killing and jailing drug users encourage more people to take up drugs?
The DDB survey was a commissioned survey, undertaken by a professional outfit. How is that inferior to an extrapolated count?
Similarly, if Duterte was correct in his 4-million count of drug users, why did the drug count increase to 4.7 million during the past 10 months?
Does this indicate that the anti-drug war is not working?
If as PDEA says, there is at least one addict for every eight households in the country, what is the situation now?
PDEA also says that 47 percent, or 19,710 of 42,036 barangays or villages, are affected by illegal drugs. Has the drug war produced any barangays that are now drug–free?
A war by law enforcement
To comprehend the drug war, Filipinos must get used to the idea that the drug war is not strictly speaking a real war, a war by force of arms or military force. It is a war by law enforcement.
There is no enemy force arrayed against the police forces of government. There is only the presumably multi-billion-peso illegal drug industry, with both its domestic and international financiers.
President Duterte’s objective, it must be assumed, is to wipe out the industry in the country.
PDEA, if it is to be a credible lead agency, has to provide now a coherent and credible brief on the illegal drugs industry in the country—its financial clout, its muscle, and its ability to contest the field with the PNP.
Is the threat anywhere close to the threat posed to the Mexican government by the drug cartels?
Finally, let me clarify for the benefit of young readers, that the initials “PDEA” officially stand for Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, not Philippine data extrapolation agency.