Data shows PH drug problem 'slightly manufactured': analyst

Christian V. Esguerra, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 05 2017 03:08 PM | Updated as of May 05 2017 06:01 PM

London School of Economics' International Drug Policy Program director John Collins

MANILA -- Drug addiction in the Philippines is below the global average suggesting that President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs may be fueled by a "slightly manufactured crisis," a London-based drug policy expert said Friday.

The global prevalence rate is 5.2 percent while the Philippine average is 2.3 percent, Benjamin Reyes, Dangerous Drugs Board chairman, told a forum at the University of the Philippines.

The local figures will still be below the global average assuming that there were in fact 4 million drug users in the country based on intelligence reports, he said.

"So there is an element where this does feel like a slightly manufactured crisis," said John Collins, director of the London School of Economics' International Drug Policy Program.

"What you need to look at is what was the necessity for the recent declaration of the war on drugs? And so there is a perception that this is at a crisis point and there has to be severe action."

More than 7,000 people have reportedly been killed in Duterte's brutal drug war launched nearly a year ago. 

But authorities disputed the numbers, insisting only 2,692 had been killed in 53,503 anti-drug operations. The rest of the fatalities were considered "homicide cases still under investigation," Reyes said.

Duterte's drug war is "not a new idea," said Collins, who cited similar crackdowns in other countries.

Like the Philippines, Thailand's war on drugs also gathered immense public support at the start.

But the campaign launched by then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in 2003 did "not achieve its targets" later on, said Pascal Tanguay of the Bangkok-based Law Enforcement and HIV Network and Ozone Foundation.

Asked if Duterte's drug war was bound to fail, Collins said: "Based on international experience, it has virtually never worked."

Reyes said the government was working on a "holistic and balanced" strategy incorporating United Nations standards to address the drug problem.

He was optimistic Duterte would sign an executive order adopting the plan, which will also institutionalize community-based rehabilitation programs and build more gender-sensitive facilities.

"(Duterte) can easily be reasoned with," Reyes said.