Duterte hikes drug use figure anew despite little evidence

Camille Diola - Philstar.com
Duterte hikes drug use figure anew despite little evidence

This article is a supplement to Philstar.com NewsLab's special report on Duterte's war on drugs.

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte again revised upward his estimate of illegal drug use in the Philippines, saying there will soon be 4 million drug "addicts." The number, however, comes from vague sources.

Encouraging cops in Cagayan de Oro on Thursday to carry out the war on drugs, Duterte said "there are about 3 million addicts contaminated by drugs," citing a supposed estimate two to three years ago by former Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) 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," he said.

"So, 3 million plus 1 million is 4 million," he added.

Citing Indonesian President Joko Widodo, whom he met earlier this month, Duterte said Indonesia has about 4 million drug "addicts."

"We're catching up with Indonesia," he said.

The president made no distinction between drug users and drug addicts, but official numbers count the prevalence of drug use at 1.8 percent of the country's 101-million population .

In this recent national survey, the Dangerous Drugs Board counted about 1.76 million illegal drug users in 2015. The board did not classify them as addicts, but only drug users in general.

It also found at around 4.74 million Filipinos took illegal substances at least once in their lifetime.

Both figures—whether the recent 1.8-percent prevalence or the 4.74-percent rate of once-in-their-lifetime users—are below the global average of 5.2 percent.


The Philippine government, moreover, lumps drug users regardless of the type of substances these users consume. Six of 10 users surveyed admitted to using shabu, while marijuana has the lowest trial rate. Experts agree, however, that drug users use more than one type of illegal substance.

The DDB's estimate is based on a nationwide household survey with representative sampling of 5,000 respondents.

Indemonstrable estimate

In the past months, Duterte repeatedly said there are 3.4 million drug users in the country—a figure he uses to justify the stringent crackdown on illegal drugs, which led to the deaths of thousands in summary killings.

The president then recently revised the number to 3.7 million, saying he is counting the 700,000 users and pushers who "surrendered" to authorities.

Even PDEA's proposed computations, however, cannot demonstrate the number.

In documents provided to Philstar.com, PDEA claims the figure is based on the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime's data that 5.2 percent of ages 15 to 64 used illegal drugs.

Part of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Authority's document submitted to Philstar.com where the agency applies the global figure for drug prevalence to the Philippines. President Rodrigo Duterte initially claimed that 3.4 million Filipinos use drugs.

"Using the UN percentage on drug users, 65.1 million (ages 15 to 64) multiplied by 0.052 is equal to 3.4 million," PDEA's document shows.

The 5.2-percent figure, however, is the global average of drug use that could not validly be applied to the Philippines.

The campaign against illegal drugs has led to the deaths of more than 3,500 people in police operations and vigilante executions, condemned human rights groups as well as the United Nations, United States and European Union. Philstar.com Newslab; Video report by Efigenio Toledo IV; Infographic by RP Ocampo

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