Two months after she was abruptly given the boot following efforts to initiate reforms as the country’s newly installed drug czar, Vice President Leni Robredo today again characterized President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war as a “failure,” saying it had taken only a tiny fraction of the total amount of drugs in the country off of the streets.
Robredo made the remarks during her Ulat ng Bayan (“Report to the Nation”) press conference, which was broadcast in full on her Facebook page. Citing the Philippine National Police’s own numbers data, Robredo said that an estimated 3,000 kilos of meth (or shabu, the country’s most popular drug) are sold in the Philippines every week — that’s 156,000 kilos per year. Of this, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency seized only 1,344 kilos shabu from January to October in 2019, or less than 1 percent.
Past years’ hauls were even smaller, with 785 kilos seized in 2018, and 1,053 kilos seized in 2017, Robredo said.
“It’s indeed a failure, because the campaign against illegal drugs has many aspects… and from what we have seen, like what I mentioned in the report, the focus is mostly on street-level enforcement, that of catching small-time drug dealers and users,” she said in Filipino.
She also said the government had seized very little of the money made in the drug trade. She said the illegal drug trade results in annual revenues of PHP1.3 trillion (US$25.440 billion), but the government confiscated just PHP1.4 billion (US$27.393 million) from 2017 to 2018.
“It’s clear that according to official data, amidst the deaths of all the Filipinos and all the money spent, we have not seized more than 1 percent of the supply of shabu and the money that has been earned through the drug trade,” she said.
“Let’s think of this as an exam where the government would have scored only one out of 100.”
Robredo also wondered aloud why the government has presented differing figures for the number of drug addicts in the country. Duterte stated last year that there were between seven and eight million drug users, but the ICAD’s official estimate is only four million.
The vice president reiterated her calls to scrap of Oplan Tokhang, the controversial police campaign that resulted in the deaths of thousands of drug suspects. Calling for an end to the program was Robredo’s first official act as drug czar, but despite the government saying at the time that they were willing to stop the bloody program, there has been little movement on that front since Robredo’s sudden firing.
“From this data, we can see that we need a change of strategy. This includes the scrapping of Tokhang and coming up with new orders that have clearer objectives and operational guidelines to avoid abuse,” she said.
Meanwhile, presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo defended Duterte’s campaign as only he could, by appearing to paint the thousands of deaths associated with the drug war as a positive outcome, and suggesting that the campaign must have been a success, otherwise everyone would be a drug addict.
“If it were a failure, all families would have been affected by drugs,” he said in his press briefing today.
“The fact remains that we have dismantled so many drug factories. The fact remains that we have also caused the surrender of thousands of drug addicts and pushers. The fact remains that due to many police operations there have been casualties… and arrest[s] of people involved in drugs. And even high-value drug suspects have been neutralized. These are the facts.”