Why Duterte's ‘4 million drug users’ is statistically improbable

Let’s not lose our grip on reality

In sum, President Duterte’s estimated 4 million drug users is a bloated figure that lies beyond the realm of statistical probability and lacks any solid empirical basis.

But the debate over 1.8 million versus 4 million pales in comparison to the disturbing way by which the administration has brazenly misused statistics and ignored scientific evidence in its efforts to justify the brutal drug war.

The President’s sacking of DDB Secretary Reyes over contradictory data only raises further suspicion that the President is not being totally forthright about his numbers.

Fudging the numbers is disturbing for two main reasons. First, to the extent that the President uses drug use data to justify his brutal drug war, an overestimation could easily be used to justify an extension of the bloody drug war up to the President’s last day in office.

Second, if the President now disputes the drug user data, what other statistics could he dispute later? GDP growth figures? Inflation figures? Unemployment figures? If these figures contradict his own guesstimates, will he also fire officials of the Philippine Statistics Authority?

The pages of history are replete with despots who rose to power by altering the facts and gaslighting their citizens.

In historian Tom Snyder’s latest book (On Tyranny), he said: “To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle.”

With the descent of martial law in Mindanao (and maybe later throughout the country), never has it been more important to stick to the facts. In the end, a tighter grip on reality – through data and evidence – may be one of the best ways to brace ourselves against this new, rising wave of authoritarian rule. – Rappler.com


The author is a PhD student at the UP School of Economics. His views are independent of the views of his affiliations. Thanks to friends and colleagues for valuable comments and suggestions.

JC Punongbayan

JC Punongbayan is a PhD candidate and teaching fellow at the UP School of Economics. His views are independent of the views of his affiliations.