Police to change strategy in anti-drug war based on Duterte's estimate of drug users

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 28) — The Philippine National Police (PNP) said they will improve their anti-drug operations based on the President's increased estimate of drug users in Metro Manila.

PNP Spokesman Bernard Banac said Thursday they will focus their attention on going after illegal drug syndicates instead of drug users to "contain the supply side."

President Rodrigo Duterte on Sunday pegged the number of drug users in the National Capital Region to be about seven or eight million. Banac said they stand by the President's estimate since he has "wide access to information." However, they have yet to verify the numbers.

"It remains to be verified but we'll take it as a good decision-making tool," Banac said during the Real Numbers press briefing in Camp Crame, Quezon City.

Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) Director Derrick Carreon and National Bureau of Investigation Spokesperson Ferdinand Lavin, who were present in the briefing, said they will also abide by the President's figure. They said since the number of arrests and anti-drug operations have increased, this has led to more information on the whereabouts and identities of other users.

"Drug operations are improving. There are more arrests and the arrests will come (with) additional information…arrested addicts that provide information kaya nagdadagdag ng estimates (that's why estimates increase)," Lavin said.

The new estimate doubled the initial figure presented by Duterte in 2017 as a rationale for his rigorous anti-drug campaign. After a year in his position, Duterte said there were about four million drug users in the country. However, then-Dangerous Drugs Board Chair Benjamin Reyes instead abided by a figure of 1.8 million from research. Duterte later fired Reyes for "contradicting" the government.

Banac maintained that police operations against illegal drugs have been "effective" despite the rise of the number of users. He cited the recent national survey showing majority of Filipinos believe the number of drug addicts has decreased.

PDEA also reported that 170,689 drug personalities have been arrested from July 1, 2016 to January 31, this year. Meanwhile, a total of 11,080 barangays have been declared "cleared" of illegal drugs out of more than 40,000. The police said they have yet to clear 21,974 barangays in the country from illegal drugs.

On the other hand, police data showed 5,176 drug personalities have died in anti-drug operations.

The President also promised a "bloodier" drug war in the remaining years of his term, implying more arrests. Banac assured that PNP personnel will uphold the rights of the public as they continue with their efforts.

"We assure the public the PNP subscribes to the rule of law. All anti-drug operations are done with utmost respect for human rights and human life," he said.

However, as prescribed by law, the police have the right to use force to defend themselves should armed conflict arise, Banac clarified.

"We know that drug syndicates are well-armed, they will not allow themselves to be arrested or caught and put behind bars, and there is always that possibility that they would put a high level of risk against our law enforcers…If there is a risk of life and his (law enforcer's) life is in danger then he has all the right to use the force necessary to contain the risk," he explained.