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Cayetano hikes figure of drug addicts to 4-7 million

Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano appears on the monitors inside the United Nations media center as he delivers the message of the Republic of the Philippines during the 72nd UN General Assembly in New York City on Sept. 24, 2017 Philippine time. PPD/King Rodriguez

MANILA, Philippines — Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Cayetano claimed before the United Nations General Assembly on Sunday that there were between four million to seven million Filipinos hooked to drugs in the country, bigger than the numbers President Rodrigo Duterte and the Dangerous Drugs Board regularly cited.

According to Cayetano, illegal drugs have already percolated in 24,848 villages, which are 59 percent of the country's more than 42,036 villages, the smallest units of governance directly in touch with people.

"It's estimated that 4 to 7 million people have been using drugs or are becoming dependent upon drugs. Where is sovereignty in a country where vast numbers are addicted to drugs and are enslaved to their suppliers?" the foreign secretary said in the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

Cayetano repeated a similar range in his meeting with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the Department of Foreign Affairs confirmed to Philstar.com.

He claimed that based on "various sources" the number of Filipinos addicted to drugs ranged from as low as one million to as high as seven million. Cayetano, however, did not specify the sources of his information.

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"Although the statistics, the classification of users and the methodology used vary, they all still point to the seriousness of the illegal drug problem in the Philippines," the secretary told his American counterpart.

Muddled numbers

The true picture of the country's drug problem has been muddled by different statistics cited by the government and its senior figures.

The president said that the country already had four million drug addicts, based on the figure provided to him Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency chief Dionisio Santiago.

"Sabi ni Santiago before, 2 (to) 3 years ago, there are already about 3 million addicts contaminated by drugs. The recent events would show that there are about, we're counting, it would hit 1 million by the end of the month," the chief executive said last year.

In citing this number, the president did not make a distinction between drug users and drug addicts.

The DDB, apparently in an effort to provide mathematical support to the president's number, said that Duterte's claim was "within the realm of possibility."

According to the DDB's 2015 Nationwide Survey on the Nature and Extent of Drug Abuse in the Philippines released in September last year, there were around 1.8 million drug users in the Philippines, representing 2.3 percent of the population.

Former PDEA chief Isidro Lapeña, citing the same DDB survey, in a past television interview claimed there were three million drug addicts in the Philippines.

"Pero may margin of error kasi iyan na plus or minus 5 percent, so it can even go as high as—so 2.3 plus 5 percent, that's 7.3 percent. That's even higher than the global average," former DDB Chairman Benjamin Reyes told Philstar.com early this year.

"So, 'yung sinasabi ni president na four million? It's actually probable. Kasi nga, pasok siya doon sa margin of error eh," he said.

Distinguishing users, addicts

Reyes has since been sacked by Duterte for contradicting the chief executive's unsupported number.

Former DDB chief Reyes also clarified that not all of the four million Filipino drug users were drug addicts.

He said that many—including the president himself—conflated drug users and addiction although "technically and definitely, they are different."

According Cayetano, Duterte launched the campaign against illegal drugs to protect the country's sovereignty.

"As a responsible leader, the Philippine president launched a vigorous campaign against the illegal drug trade to save lives, preserve families, protect communities and stop the country's slide into a narco-state," he said.

He also defended the ferociousness the government's anti-drug campaign and said that stern measures consistent with the rule of law were needed.

"The president has and will always have zero-tolerance for abusive cops," he said. — Video report by Efigenio Toledo IV

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