Comparison to Australian drug seizure stats shows cause to be critical of Duterte’s War on Drugs

A recent Rappler “report” is now being bandied around by Opposition “thought leaders” to “prove” that Philippine “vice president” Leni Robredo is correct in calling President Rodrigo Duterte’s War on Drugs a “failure”. The cornerstone of Robredo’s findings according to Rapplerette Rambo Talabong in his piece, “U.P. statistics professor: Robredo computed right in drug war report” is a simple back-of-the-envelope calculation…

Robredo called the campaign a “failure” based on the police’s estimate that drug addicts consume 3 tons of shabu every week across the country, or equal to about 156,000 kilos every year, yet the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency was able to seize just 1,344 kilos from January to October 2019.

The trouble with the Rappler “analysis” is that it misses the point (and an opportunity to make a good one) by a mile. One would think such a simple school girl calculation wouldn’t warrant engaging some chi chi mathematician to validate it. But no. Rappler, being Rappler, goes on to “report” that, according to University of the Philippines statistics professor Peter Cayton, “it is okay to use the estimated value in comparison to actual seizures”.

That’s like renting a Mercedes Benz to haul horse manure to a farm.

If only the “thought leaders” of Yellowtardom could think for themselves and not have to rely on a top honcho quant to mark a first grade “report”, they would have worked out on their own that there is nothing wrong at all with Robredo’s little calculation as any armchair analyst with a brain even half the size of hers would’ve gone down that “analysis” path.

Indeed, in annualised terms, Robredo is right in pointing out that the amount seized by Philippine law and drug enforcement authorities is just a measly one percent of estimated consumption. However, some context is required to put this number in perspective — context that Talabong’s Rappler-bred brain was too addled to bring to bear in his “report”.

In Australia, more sophisticated methods are used to estimate total consumption. Under the National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program of the Australian Government waste water passing through the country’s sewers are analysed for traces of drug residue from urine flushed by users down toilets. Through these techniques the annual national consumption for methylamphetamine (and similar types) and cocaine in Australia was estimated to be just over 15,000 kilograms. This number alone adds some context to the Philippines’ own drug problem. In Australia, this consumption volume equates to about 600 kilograms per million people. In the Philippines, using the government figure of 156,000 kilograms per annum (and assuming that cocaine use is negligible in comparison), the ratio is just over 1,500 kg per million people. In short, on a per capita basis, the drug problem in Australia is a bit less than half the magnitude of what the Philippines suffers.

(Source: National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program—Report 8, August 2019)

From an enforcement perspective, however, the comparison is far more stark. The total volume seized by Australian authorities annualised from 2017-2018 is 7,000 kg or 47% of total consumption (specific report here). Thus, if the Philippine government figures used by Robredo are correct, there is cause to be critical of the effectiveness of the current drug enforcement practice in the Philippines.

Australia is, of course, an advanced developed society with far more resources and technology to employ in its own efforts to combat drug trafficking. The Philippines, by many accounts, has had a spotty record of drug enforcement over the last several decades. Still, a one percent seizure rate, if we are to believe Robredo’s report and the Philippine government figures she used, is pretty dismal even by Third World standards. And this demands pause for reflection — and a lot better “journalism” of course.