It is regrettable that the news and commentaries regarding the “Co-Chairperson’s Report” have focused on the finding that “the percentage of shabu seized is less than 1% of the total estimated consumption of shabu.”
Almost everyone — the media, the Duterte administration and its supporters, and even the supporters of Vice-President Leni Robredo — has harped on this matter, as if the whole report was anchored on this. The unintended consequence: We won’t be able to see the forest for the trees.
The presentation regarding the ratio of shabu volume seized (SVS) to shabu consumption (SC) is but a description and a quantification of a metric used to assess performance of fighting illicit drugs. Some issues arise by using this metric, which can be discomforting to those enforcing an aggressive drug policy.
What is indisputable is the SVS. But estimating the SC and correspondingly, the shabu volume (SV) to satisfy SC, according to the Philippine National Police (PNP) spokesman Brigadier General Bernard Banac, is a “wild guess.” That wild guess cannot be attributed to the “Co-Chairperson’s Report,” because the source came from the PNP itself when it did an assessment of the magnitude of the drug problem in 2019.
Let us pursue to its logical conclusion the line of thought of the PNP spokesman, who said that the PNP’s estimate of the number of drug users is “even conservative compared with the estimate of PDEA” (Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency). The PNP estimates three million drug users. The PDEA puts the number at four million users. President Rodrigo Duterte’s figure is much higher — he has claimed that drug users number between seven million and eight million. Thus, if one uses the numbers from the PDEA and from President Duterte, then the ratio of SVS to SC would be less than 1%!
In fact, the “Co-Chairperson’s Report” is acutely aware of the information problem. One of its main findings is: “There is no common and reliable baseline data on the number of drug dependents in the country.” This is actually difficult to establish because of the asymmetry of information arising from the covertness of drug use.
Note the term used by the “Co-Chairperson’s Report” in the sentence above: “drug dependents.” The definition of “drug dependents” is very different from “drug users.” It goes without saying that a drug user is not necessarily a drug dependent. This has a deep policy implication. Recognizing the distinction between drug dependence and drug use will result in a reorientation of the whole drug policy.
To illustrate, a professor of psychology at the University of the Philippines, who has been commissioned to do a study on Metro Manila traffic, confided to me that jeepney drivers consume shabu to keep them awake and alert as they work long hours. Another friend told me that the typical Meralco lineman uses shabu to be productive and, more importantly, to be alert in doing a risky job.
The “Co-Chairperson’s Report” also expounds on the many complex facets of drug policy. It acknowledges that the creation of the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs “is a step in the right direction.” To further strengthen it, the “Co-Chairperson’s Report” recommends putting in place a more comprehensive strategy in lieu of the fixation on tactical operations, mainly armed, on the street level. It likewise recommends the involvement of other agencies involved in prevention and reintegration, and the provision of augmented resources for these agencies.
Similarly, the “Co-Chairperson’s Report” calls for the end to tokhang, which essentially has become a witch-hunt and which has been associated with violence, including unlawful killings.
The ratio of SVS to SC (the 1%), which indeed makes sensational news, is but an item related to a major recommendation that dwells on supply constriction as a crucial strategy. The said ratio provides a bit of the picture puzzle (obviously important because one missing bit in a picture puzzle does not form the picture), but it is not the big picture.
The “Co-Chairperson’s Report” is first and foremost about the big picture. In the process, it states the findings and recommendations, and teases them out by providing the relevant data.
Because of the comprehensiveness and detailedness of the “Co-Chairperson’s Report,” it is bound to raise questions, even from those who are sympathetic to the Report. But precisely, the Report is meant to facilitate a healthy debate on drug policy.
We likewise have to understand the constraints of the “Co-Chairperson’s Report.” As Co-Chair of the Inter-Committee Agency on Anti-Illegal Drugs, the Vice-President’s action was constrained by the “rules of the game.” It was by working within such a system (which many any of her supporters warned her was a trap) that the Vice-President was able to come out with a significant document. The “Co-Chairperson’s Report” is now defining the terms of debate on the fight against illicit drugs.
This is a great step forward in fulfilling her statement: Dahil kung mayroon akong maliligtas na kahit isang inosenteng buhay, ang sinasabi ng prinsipyo at puso ko ay kailangan ko itong subukan (Because if I could save even one innocent life, my principle and heart would say that I should try it).
Filomeno S. Sta. Ana III coordinates the Action for Economic Reforms.