U.P. statistics professor: Robredo computed right in drug war report

MANILA, Philippines – Many national government officials have protested Vice President Leni Robredo's searing report on the Duterte administration's campaign against illegal drugs, saying her criticism of the supposed failure was based on a wrong computation of government data. 

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.

Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said “her computation is wrong.” Philippine National Police (PNP) officer-in-charge Lieutenant General Archie Gamboa said her comparison of the figures was “not even mathematically acceptable.”

So who got it right? 

University of the Philippines statistics professor Peter Cayton told Rappler that Robredo’s computations and comparisons were correct.

“Generally, it is okay to use the estimated value in comparison to actual seizures,” Cayton told Rappler in a text message.

The administration officials, meanwhile, have offered little to no explanation as to why Robredo’s findings were wrong. When they speak, they don't address the issue.

“Remember, that is our estimate, we did not say that that is the amount of drugs in the streets. It’s just an estimate on the kind of convertation (sic) that we are going to make, and it is only a theoretical assumption,” Gamboa said in a briefing on Tuesday.

President Rodrigo Duterte, when asked for comment on the Vice President's report, simply went for the ad hominem, calling her a “colossal blunder.”

What Robredo might have gotten wrong: According to Cayton, there is one possible major caveat in Robredo’s findings: where she got the data.

“If the estimate is unreliable, it is not safe to use it,” Cayton said, noting that law enforcers generate unreliable data on the anti-drug campaign.

The data came from the PNP itself, with the estimate of the weekly consumption of illegal drugs at 3 tons a week coming from Colonel Romeo Caramat Jr, the head of the PNP’s Drug Enforcement Group (DEG).

“In 2002, 10% of our population was affected by drugs so [it is a] safe or modest estimate if we have 3 million users in our country, the minimum sup­ply demand of drugs is 3 tons per week, 3,000 kilos per week,” Caramat said, as quoted by the Manila Bulletin on November 28, 2019.

If the estimate came from 2002, the numbers would already be outdated. Rappler sought Caramat for clarification, but he has not replied. A PNP DEG official Rappler consulted said the figure was still updated: they estimate that there are 3 million drug users in the country and that each of them consumes at least 1 gram a week.

They initially used 4 million as an estimate, echoing President Duterte’s questionable approximation, but the DEG official said they adjusted the figure to 3 million to account for the reduced number of users since the anti-drug campaign aggressively arrested users.

The estimate that each drug user consumed one gram of illegal drugs a week, the official said, came from the PDEA. Sought for clarification, PDEA spokesman Derrick Carreon said they have to double-check with their experts and records before confirming the estimate. – Rappler.com

Rambo Talabong

Rambo Talabong covers security, crime, and the city of Manila for Rappler. He was chosen as a Jaime V. Ongpin Fellow in 2019 for his reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.

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