Wed, Jun 28, 2017 - Page 9 News List

Blood, but no victory as Philippine ‘drug war’ marks its first year

If the strategy was working, the laws of economics suggest the price of crystal methamphetamine should be rising, but data suggest it has become even cheaper

By Clare Baldwin and Andrew Marshall  /  Reuters, MANILA

Launched one year ago, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal war on drugs has resulted in thousands of deaths, yet the street price of crystal methamphetamine in Manila has fallen and surveys show that residents are as anxious as ever about crime.

Duterte took power on June 30 last year, vowing to halt the drug abuse and lawlessness he saw as “symptoms of virulent social disease.”

Thanks to his campaign, government officials say, crime has dropped, thousands of drug dealers are behind bars, a million users have registered for treatment and future generations are being protected from the scourge of drugs.

“There are thousands of people who are being killed, yes, but there are millions who live, see?” Metro Manila Police Chief Oscar Albayalde said.

However, a growing chorus of critics, including humanrights advocates, lawyers and the nation’s influential Catholic Church, dispute the authorities’ claims of success.

They say police have summarily executed drug suspects with impunity, terrorizing poorer communities and exacerbating the very lawlessness they were meant to tackle.

“This president behaves as if he is above the law — that he is the law,” wrote Amado Picardal, an outspoken priest, in an article for a Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines publication. “He has ignored the rule of law and human rights.”

The drug war’s exact death toll is hotly disputed, with critics saying the toll is far above the 5,000 that police have identified as either drug-related killings or suspects shot dead during police operations.

Most victims are small-time users and dealers, while the masterminds behind the lucrative drug trade are largely unknown and at large, critics of Duterte’s ruthless methods say.

If the strategy was working, the laws of economics suggest the price of crystal methamphetamine, the highly addictive drug also known as shabu, should be rising as less supply hits the streets, but the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency’s own data suggest shabu has become even cheaper in Manila.

In July last year, 1 gram cost 1,200 to 11,000 pesos (US$24 to US$220), according to the agency’s figures.

Last month, 1 gram cost 1,000 to 15,000 pesos, it said.

The wide ranges reflect swings in availability and sharp regional variations.

Officials say Manila’s street prices are at the lowest end of the range and that has come down, albeit by just a couple of hundred pesos.

“If prices have fallen, it’s an indication that enforcement actions have not been effective,” said Gloria Lai of the International Drug Policy Consortium, a global network of non-governmental organizations focused on narcotics.

The problem is that while nine domestic drug laboratories have been busted, shabu smuggled in from overseas has filled the market gap, Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency spokesman Derrick Carreon said.

“Demand needs to be addressed because there are still drug smugglers,” Carreon said.

While smuggled shabu has kept the price down in the capital, the official data show the price has gone up in the already substantially more expensive far-flung regions, such as the insurgency-racked southern island of Mindanao.

Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao last month after militants inspired by the Islamic State group stormed Marawi City and the army’s failure to retake the city quickly has dented the president’s image as a law-and-order leader.

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