Editorial: “Hidden numbers” of drug war

HOW should we measure our progress in the fight against illegal drugs?

One rubric used by the Duterte administration in the war on drugs was the body count of alleged drug users and pushers executed while reportedly resisting arrest on the streets.

Since President Rodrigo Duterte took office on June 30,2016, the “neutralization of the illegal drug personalities nationwide,” to quote former Philippine National Police (PNP) head Ronald dela Rosa, claimed the lives of “over 12,000 Filipinos to date, mostly urban poor, (with) at least 2,555 of the killings... attributed to the (PNP) ,” according to the Human Rights Watch (HRW), a nongovernment organization (NGO) that “investigates and reports on abuse” in about 100 countries.

The “true casualty count” may never be known, asserted Sheila Coronel, Mariel Padilla, David Mora, and The Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism. In their August 2019 report, “The Uncounted Dead of Duterte’s Drug War,” published in, the team, after cross-checking the officially reported figures with 23 other sources, including the Commission on Human Rights and the Ateneo School of Government, found “2,320 drug-linked homicides in the first year and a half of Duterte’s drug war—more than twice as many as the police have claimed... in just three parts of the Philippine capital,” which are Caloocan, Quezon City and Manila.

“Hidden” or not, the numbers of street executions gradually gave way to another set of rubric: The declaration of drug-free local governments, as certified by the Regional Oversight Committee on Dangerous Drugs, composed of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), Department of Health, Department of the Interior and Local Government and the PNP.

Do the drug-clearing operations reflect actualities or merely reporting targets met that satisfy the parameters defined by the Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB): “The non-availability of drug supply in the area and the absence of drug transit activity, clandestine drug laboratory and chemical warehouse, marijuana cultivation site, drug den, drug pushers, and users,” as reported by SunStar Zamboanga on Feb. 15?

Stakeholders must be aware that the Philippine Anti-Illegal Drugs Strategy (Pads) has two foci, as defined by the DDB: The reduction of the drug supply and the drug demand. In law enforcement, a key area in strategies to reduce drug supply, there is a surge of Filipinos “victimized as drug couriers” by international trafficking syndicates, according to the

From only two Filipinos arrested abroad for acting as drug couriers, there were 710 reported by the PDEA in October 2019. Many of these Filipino drug mules exploited by the international syndicates are women.

Thus, citizens must not relax their vigilance in monitoring how their communities translate the Pads into actualities. Drug demand reduction strategies are concentrated in preventive education, treatment and rehabilitation, and advocacy.

Carrying out these campaigns means the activation of the local government’s Anti-Drug Abuse Councils, tasked to involve stakeholders in the treatment, rehabilitation, reintegration and aftercare necessary for both drug surrenderees and other citizens to live truly drug-free lives.

Recently, the Talisay City Government partnered with the NGO Our Lady of Divine Providence Home to provide aftercare services to children whose parents are jailed or were killed in the War on Drugs.

Talisay City Mayor Gerald Anthony Gullas Jr. said it is a priority in his administration to look into the welfare of the children. How many local governments and civil society groups reach out to the “hidden numbers” of Filipinos victimized in the War on Drugs?


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