MANILA, Philippines - An estimated 1.7 million Filipinos are hooked on drugs, with 1,700 of them dying each year due to their addiction, a Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) official said Tuesday.
DDB executive director Benjamin Reyes told the House committee on dangerous drugs that the 1.7 million represents an increase of 200,000 from the number of drug users two years ago.
Based on his agency’s estimate, he said the number of deaths directly related to drug use is “very low.”
“Even the World Health Organization ranks the Philippines 153rd in terms of drug use-related mortalities,” he said.
Committee members led by chairman Vicente Belmonte Jr. of Iligan City expressed disbelief over Reyes’ “low” numbers.
“I think those are not reliable,” Parañaque Rep. Roilo Golez, a former Palace national security adviser, said.
He said he could not believe that only 1,700 deaths a year could be attributed to or induced by drug use.
“We always claim that 70-75 percent of crimes and deaths resulting from these crimes are drug-related,” he said.
Golez’s colleagues agreed with him.
Nueva Vizcaya Rep. Carlos Padilla said drug use today is not confined only in Metro Manila and urban centers but has spread even in the rural areas as well.
Belmonte said there are already tens of thousands of drug users in the provinces.
For his part, Rep. Loreto Leo Ocampos of Misamis Occidental said drug lords in his province and in Ozamis City are funding the Kuratong Baleleng group of bank robbers.
“They export bank robbers to Metro Manila. They give each group of robbers P2 million for every operation,” he said.
While the DDB gave estimates on the number of Filipino drug users and drug-related deaths, other agencies involved in the fight against drugs, including the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), the Philippine National Police and the National Bureau of Investigation, could not provide data.
Belmonte said he would invite representatives of the Department of Health (DOH) to his committee’s next hearings to determine if they have information on drug-related deaths.
Padilla said the DOH, which routinely monitors smoking-related deaths, should have information on the number of Filipinos dying from drug addiction.
“I think drug abuse is a more serious problem than smoking,” he said.
Committee members also complained of lack of coordination among agencies involved in the fight against drug abuse.
Surigao del Sur Rep. Philip Pichay said some police units in the provinces are hesitant to go after drug peddlers and users in deference to the PDEA.
New PDEA chief Arturo Cacdac said while his agency is the lead entity in the fight against illegal drugs, the police and other law enforcement units can wage their own campaigns provided that they coordinate with the PDEA.
“Coordination can take place before, during or after their operation. They can just text or call us. We have regional offices,” he said.