With a year left in Duterte's term, UNODC says shabu still a major problem in the Philippines

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
With a year left in Duterte's term, UNODC says shabu still a major problem in the Philippines
Policemen stand guard near the body of a man killed during what police said was a drug-related vigilante killing in Barangay Manggahan in Pasig City early yesterday.
The STAR / Joven Cagande

MANILA, Philippines — With just a year left in the term of President Rodrigo Duterte, crystal methamphetamines are still behind the most arrest and treatment admissions in the Philippines, an international drug report found. 

The latest report of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime on synthetic drugs in Southeast Asia also found that admissions related to methamphetamines, colloquially known as shabu, decreased by more than half due to quarantine restrictions and the suspension of rehabilitation efforts.  

"Crystalline methamphetamine remains the main drug of concern in the Philippines, representing the reason for the largest proportion of drug-related arrests and treatment admissions in 2020," the report read in its summary of major trends and emerging concerns. 

From almost 5,000 admissions linked to shabu in 2019, just a little over 2,000 were admitted the following year, per figures from the Dangerous Drugs Board.

Some 47,000 were also arrested for shabu use in 2019, from almost 57,000 the year prior—making up over 90% of drug-related arrests. 

This runs counter to the consistent narrative of administration officials that the anti-narcotics campaign has made significant strides in peace and order. 

Former PNP chief Camilo Cascolan in September 2020 went so far as to claim that "there is no reported local production of Shabu in the country" due to pressure from the national police amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

But the UN report, which cited figures from the Dangerous Drugs Board and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, found that despite coronavirus restrictions, 2,196 kilograms of crystal meth were seized in 2020, an increase from the 2,071 taken the year prior.

Liquid meth seizures also went down in that time frame, from 203.2 long tons in 2019 to just 0.7 in 2020. 

READ: Duterte’s war on drugs an utter failure – Manila bishop

Emerging trends 

Besides seizures and admissions, the price and quality of shabu in the country also reportedly went down over the past two years. 

Citing official communication with the DDB and PDEA, the UNODC also found that the purity of shabu went from 67.99% to 58.29% in 2020. 

Consequently, pricing, too, fell from 136 USD to just 130.8 last year. 

As it currently stands, official police figures acknowledge at least 6,117 deaths in anti-drug operations as of April 30. Police leadership earlier claimed the number was as high as 8,000 but later took this back. However, rights groups both here and abroad say the real number may be as high as 30,000. 

International rights groups have already pointed out that the drug-related killings in the country increased amid quarantine restrictions. The New York-based Human Rights Watch said that this was because drug killings were harder to document with the general public indoors. 

Even aggregated numbers officially released by the government's anti-drug agencies have shown that police killed 50% more people in the first months of the quarantine compared to the same period pre-pandemic. 

War on drugs a failure?

With just a year to go, both critics and pro-administration officials alike have questioned the progress of the administration's flagship war on drugs.

The president's landslide win to the presidency was founded on, among other things, ambitious promises of ending drugs and criminality within the first six months of his term. He later asked for an extension that he also later failed to meet. 

Earlier in February of this year, Sen. Panfilo Lacson went as far as calling the campaign on illegal narcotics a failure. 

"We have to be honest with ourselves. The 'drug war; really failed. Almost nothing changed with the illegal drugs situation. It's still chronic. If it succeeded, then there should be a significant dent on the drug syndicates," he said in Filipino. 

"What else can we do with the one year remaining? We still have to deal with the pandemic and our other problems."

READ: Majority of Filipinos see human rights violations in 'failing' drug war — SWS





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