President Rodrigo Duterte declared the drug war a failure nine months before Vice President Leni Robredo presented her findings as the former co-chair of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (ICAD), articulating her opinion on the drug war’s many shortcomings.
Although the elimination of illegal drugs within three to six months was a key rhetoric in the former Davao City mayor’s presidential bid, it has virtually collapsed almost halfway into his term. “Ang droga hindi ko nga makontrol…Mas lalo tuloy tumindi. Kaya ang [tinatanong] naman ng ibang opisyal, ‘Ito ba’y [nagtagumpay]?’ Sabihin ko sa inyo hindi, kasi worldwide ‘yan,” Duterte said last April 2019.
(I cannot control illegal drugs…It has even worsened. Other officials are asking, “Was the anti-drug campaign successful?” I am telling you that it is not, because it is a worldwide problem.)
While Duterte mostly attributed the problem to corrupt police practices, Robredo built her stand on the main observations she gathered during her time as ICAD co-chair—one of which was the government’s flop in constricting the drug supply.
According to Robredo, data collected by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) showed that from January to October 2019, 1,344 kilograms (kg) of methamphetamine or shabu was seized by authorities. By comparison, a total of 785 kg was seized in 2018, while 1,053 kg was obtained in 2017. The Anti-Money Laundering Council, on the other hand, was able to confiscate P1.4-billion in drug money from 2017 to 2018.
While the figures show a large haul was made in the past years, it represents only one percent of the estimated amount of shabu traded in the country.
Robredo, citing statistics from the Philippine National Police (PNP), said that approximately 3,000 kg of shabu is consumed every week across the country, translating to about 156,000 kg annually. However, the entire amount confiscated between 2017 and 2019 would only amount to a week’s worth of consumption.
Citing the same source, Robredo also revealed that the PNP estimated that demand for shabu alone reached an astounding P1.3-trillion a year, with weekly demand pegged at P25-billion.
“Failure talaga siya, dahil ‘ yung kampanya sa droga, maraming aspeto…Masyadong tinutukan ‘yung street-level enforcement,” she said. She also commented that the drug problem in the country will not be solved unless they work on “supply constriction” instead.
(It really is a failure, because the campaign against drugs has many aspects…They focused too much on street-level enforcement.)
This is wildly different from Sen. Ronald Dela Rosa’s claim in 2016—when he was still serving as PNP Chief—that the supply had been “significantly reduced” by 80 to 90 percent only a few months into the anti-drug campaign.
Suppressing supply, dismissing demand
Under the PNP’s Memorandum Circular 16-2016, the police force’s directorial staff, operational support units, and local offices were given responsibilities to facilitate the reduction of supply and demand, following the strategies laid out by earlier documents given by the Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) and PNP.
In mid-2019, however, police spokesman Col. Bernard Banac relayed the PNP’s decision to shift its focus on curbing supply, citing an abundance of illegal drugs despite an “aggressive” campaign, as a reason for the change. Yet early into the war on drugs, analysts found that the administration’s anti-drug crackdown was already primarily focused on the disruption of the supply chain.
While supply may initially diminish under such an attempt, it will eventually reemerge if demand remains the same, and the market price of drugs will return to equilibrium after an initial rise. This is according to a 2016 special report by The Philippine Star, citing John Collins, Executive Director of the International Drug Policy Project of a London School of Economics think tank.
Caloocan City Rep. Edgar Erice gave his own observation in 2017, when he filed a resolution for an evaluation of the government’s drug war during the 17th Congress, saying that the government’s supply-centered policy caused a drug shortage yet has not necessarily resulted in a proportional decrease in the quantity demanded.
Previously, Collins also explained this phenomenon to The Philippine Star, “The likely outcome (based on evidence from other countries) is that the drug market will undergo changes in operation, but not necessarily size…The likelihood is that it will reemerge since all of the conditions which fostered it in the first place will remain.”
A ‘very good’ effort
Filipinos, however, have generally perceived a decrease in the presence of drug users. Just last January, a Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey reported that 73 percent of Filipinos said there were fewer drug users in their area, an increase from the 66 percent who made the same observation in the previous year. SWS data released a few weeks earlier also showed that the net satisfaction rating of the drug war was “very good” at +64, with 79 percent of people expressing their contentedness.
Robredo, meanwhile, commended ICAD’s objective to lay out the roles and responsibilities of various offices involved in the operation. “Tama ang prinsipyong ito. Sa pamamagitan ng isang komite, masisiguro natin na hindi nagkakanya-kanya ang iba’t ibang instrumento ng gobyerno at may iisang layuning pinagtulungan ang lahat,” she declared.
(This principle is correct. Through a committee, we can ensure that that different government instruments are not operating on their own and that they are cooperating toward one objective.)
Robredo continued to explain that ICAD could have covered various aspects of the anti-drug campaign, including advocacy, enforcement, justice, rehabilitation, and reintegration. She, however, claimed that some of these facets are ignored in the current scheme.
New declaration of war
The drug war has become more dangerous, believes Pablo Foronda-Tanglao (II, AB-DSM). He adds that while drug addiction is a problem, a punitive response is not the answer, saying, “the drug war is inhumane, ineffective, and irresponsible.”
Alexander Rivera (I, AB-OSDM), meanwhile, believes that extensive corruption proved to be the campaign’s handicap, saying that members of the administration are able to secretly profit from dealers. An SWS survey published in early January revealed that up to 78 percent of Filipinos believe that there are “ninja cops”—police officers who sell illegal drugs confiscated from operations—in the PNP.
For Rivera, who claims to have witnessed a drug-related killing firsthand, the drug crusade has only amounted to the victimization of poor citizens. “We’re not killing criminals but we’re killing victims. To think during that time, people applauded the deaths of thousands of innocent lives taken by law enforcement…it sickens me,” he explains.
Robredo’s criticisms on the design of the anti-drug drive are the bases for her recommendations, which include a shift in strategy toward pursuing drug lords rather than peddlers along with the issuance of clearer operational guidelines. She also called for Duterte to certify certain measures as urgent, particularly those intended for anti-drug abuse offices and community-based rehabilitation. Completing her list of recommendations is her proposal for the DDB chief to lead the ICAD, instead of the current PDEA-headed arrangement in order to bring balance to the campaign.