Before Duterte: How did anti-illegal drug operations fare?

Jodesz Gavilan
Before Duterte: How did anti-illegal drug operations fare?
More than 63,000 drug suspects were arrested from 2011 to 2015, but low conviction rates plague the government's anti-illegal drugs efforts, according to PDEA data

MANILA, Philippines – More than one-fourth of all barangays (villages) in the Philippines are tainted with illegal drugs and the new administration is determined to put an end to this. 

As of December 2015, according to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Authority (PDEA), 26.39% or 11,321 out of 42,036 barangays in the Philippines are afflicted with drug problems. 

The focus on illegal drugs nowadays is mainly attributed to President Rodrigo Duterte’s campaign platform that included the suppression of crime. (READ: Duterte’s marching orders for war on drugs, crime, corruption)

In his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday, July 25, Duterte reiterated his administration’s stand, vowing that the government will not stop until “the last drug lord, the last financier, and the last pusher has surrendered or [been] put behind bars or below the ground.” 

The fight against drugs, however, is nothing new. It may look very different now given a very vocal chief executive who is unafraid to publicly name high-ranking officials allegedly protecting drug lords, and given the increasing number of suspected drug personalities winding up dead.  

Even before the presidency of Duterte and his stance against illegal drugs, authorities in different parts of the country had been trying to put an end to the menacing problem.  

But how did the anti-illegal drug operations fare before?

Low conviction rates

The success of the fight against illegal drugs – or any crime – can be measured by the number of cases filed and convictions made. 

In the Philippines, from 2011 to 2015, data show that a total of 47,901 drug-related cases were lodged by authorities against various personalities. 

The number has increased throughout the 5-year period, with the highest recorded in 2015. 

Although anti-drug efforts were already initiated even before the presidency of Duterte, their success was hindered by low conviction rates.

In 2015, for example, out of the 30,282 cases filed, only a total of 3,330 cases were resolved with 1,714 ending in acquittal, 685 in dismissal, and only 631 in conviction. 

Meanwhile, in 2014, 3,301 cases were resolved: 1,762 ending in acquittal, 903 in dismissal, and only 636 in conviction. 

According to PDEA’s Project Court Watch, which monitors the progess of drug cases filed, the challenges that hinder personalities from being penalized in accordance with the law include “insufficiency of evidence or probable cause, irregularity or illegality of arrest, search and seizure, and failure to comply with the Comprehensive Drug Act of 2002.” 

Personalities arrested 

Together with the number of cases filed, the number of arrests made continuously increased throughout the 5-year period.

According to PDEA, a total of 63,181 drug personalities had been arrested from 2011 to 2015. The biggest number of arrests were made in 2015 when 19,432 individuals were put behind bars – 5,640 more than 2014’s 13,792.

People arrested in relation to drug charges range from users, pushers, and those involved in drug manufacturing. 

Out of the total number of arrested individuals from 2011 to 2015, 292 were foreign citizens. At least 145, meanwhile, were found to have come from China.

Drug pushers topped those who were arrested, numbering 36,063 in the 5-year period. In 2015, for example, 11,309 pushers were arrested by authorities. 

Under the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, a pusher is defined as “any person who sells, trades, administers, dispenses, delivers or gives away to another, on any terms whatsoever, or distributes, dispatches in transit or transports dangerous drugs or who acts as a broker in any of such transactions.” 

Those guilty of being “drug pushers” can face life imprisonment to fines ranging from P500,000 ($10,600) to P10 million ($211,884). Drug users, meanwhile, should undergo a minimum of 6 months of rehabilitation in a treatment center.

Increasing number of gov’t officials arrested

The current administration has constantly said that many in the public sector are involved in illegal drugs.

In fact, on July 5, during the 69th anniversary of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Duterte named in public 5 police generals involved in the illegal drug trade. He said that he was “compelled by his sense of duty to tell you the police who contributed to deterioration of law and order in this country.”

Duterte’s claim of public officials’ involvement may be true, considering the number of arrested individuals who are government officials. 

According to data from PDEA, a total of 623 public officials were arrested by authorities from 2011 to 2015. Of the number of individuals arrested in 2015, 104 were government employees, 65 were elected officials, and 32 were law enforcers.

Increasing operations, seized drugs 

The number of anti-illegal drugs operations conducted between 2011 and 2015 reached 75,708, according to PDEA’s annual accomplishment reports. These operations include buy-bust, casing and surveillance, interdiction, and searches, among others. 

Except for a decrease between 2011 and 2012, the number of operations significantly increased from 2013 to 2015. PDEA data show that 2015 registered the highest number of operations at 25,041.

The 5-year operations conducted by various law enforcement agencies such as the Philippine National Police (PNP), National Bureau of Investigations (NBI), and PDEA, yielded at least P24.17 billion (P512 million)* worth of dangerous drugs, controlled precursors and essential chemicals (CPEC), and non-drug evidence.

The biggest amount of seized illegal drugs and other drug-related supplies was recorded in 2014, totalling P6.18 billion ($130.9 million). The least amount was registered in 2012, equivalent to only P2.53 billion ($53.6 million).

Data obtained by Rappler also showed that methamphetamine hydrochloride or shabu comprised the biggest chunk of seized illegal drugs – more than half of the equivalent amount each year.

Duterte scenario

There is no denying that the war on drugs is currently at its peak under the administration of Duterte whose hatred of illegal drugs is repeated in his speeches.

Various government agencies, such as the Philippine National Police (PNP), also backed the chief executive’s stand through its programs such as Project Tokhang.

Project Tokhang was first implemented by PNP chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa as police chief while he was in Davao City. It involves officials visiting the homes of suspected drug users and pushers and asking them to stop or surrender.

Under Project Tokhang, 141,310 voluntarily surrendered from July 1 to 28. Meanwhile, at least 4,386 drug suspects have been arrested. 

But the war on drugs also yielded casualties. As of July 28, 316 drug suspects have been killed during legitimate operations, according to PNP data. (READ: Duterte’s war on drugs in numbers

As the Duterte administration continues its war on drugs, will we be seeing more convictions in the next 6 years or will there be more casualties? – 

 *$1 = P47.2

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Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.