Vice President Leni Robredo speaks during her first meeting with members of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (ICAD) on Friday, November 08, 2019, at the Office of the Vice President in Quezon City. Robredo, as newly-appointed co-chair of ICAD, presided over the meeting. INQUIRER.net/Noy Morcoso
MANILA, Philippines—At her first meeting as co-chair of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (ICAD) on Friday, Nov. 8, Vice President Leni Robredo said she found one thing clear—the data are not clear.
Robredo said she had been given different numbers of drug users. She was told 7 to 8 million people in the Philippines use drugs. She said, however, that in the early days of the campaign against drugs under President Rodrigo Duterte, the estimated number of drug users had been just 1.8 million. The numbers perplexed her.
“So I said if we started with 1.8 million and we’re seven to eight million now, what happened to all the effort?”said Robredo, referring to the number of drug users that had been discussed in the ICAD meeting and also questioning why the number of users grew bigger instead of smaller amid the anti-drug campaign.
At a briefing after the meeting, Robredo said it became clear to her that “the numbers are not also clear.”
“It seems you can’t trust the integrity of the numbers,” said Robredo in Filipino, recalling discussion in the meeting about the 1.8 million figure. Even the Dangerous Drugs Board and other members of the ICAD could not determine the real number, she added.
In September 2016, when Duterte’s war on dugs was gaining momentum, the DDB said there were at least 1.8 million drug users in the Philippines. But Duterte had a different number. That same year, he said there were at between 3 to 4 million drug users in the country.
In March this year, during campaign sorties of his senatorial candidates, Duterte mentioned a different number, saying there were already 7 to 8 million drug users in the Philippines, which would have been an increase of between 5 to 6 million drug users amid a brutal anti-drug campaign. Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo later said the President had been referring to “national figures.”
According to Robredo, she was told that the 4 million estimate was reached based on a process that involved counting the number of those who surrendered either as users or pushers through Oplan Tokhang (Knock and Plead).
On the 7-8 million figure, the Vice President said there was “no explanation where it came from” although it came from the words of the President himself.
“So to me, it’s clear that you can’t really trust the 1.8 million or the 7-8 million,” said Robredo in Filipino.
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Robredo said agencies involved in the campaign against drugs are now trying to speed up an ongoing survey which would hopefully give correct data to show just how big the drug menace is.
“The rush to come up with numbers right now all we have are estimates,” she said. “But a survey is being conducted. The survey is just every four years and the last survey was in 2015,” she added.
The survey, she said, would be “evidence-based” and her suggestion was for it to cover everything about drug use.
The appointment of Robredo to a key role in the war on drugs came after she gave an interview with a foreign news outlet saying there was a need to restudy the campaign against drugs if the numbers showed that there are now more drug users or dependents than when the anti-drug campaign started.
The interview drew the ire of Duterte, who ranted against Robredo for discussing the country’s problems “outside” instead of offering to help. This led to Duterte offering a top anti-drug role to Robredo, first as a challenge to show she could do better./TSB
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