One line is all it took for President Rodrigo Duterte to describe how immense the drug problem the country is still facing.
“The amount of shabu valued at millions of pesos seized during police operations speaks volumes of the enormity and weight of the problem that we bear,” he said last year during his fifth State of the Nation Address (SoNA) last year.
It’s an admission that the menace will not end soon, and his vaunted war on drugs can only do so much.
Questions were raised.
How much has changed since that comment by the chief executive? How much deeper does the rabbit hole go?
Latest available data from government-run RealnumbersPH show the total amount of illegal drugs seized from 1 July 2016 to 31 May this year was at P59.3 billion.
Of that amount, methamphetamine hydrochloride or “shabu,” the most abused drug in the country, makes up P49.31 billion — a P15.13 billion jump from the total shabu confiscated as of 31 May 2020.
That spike is expected to go higher when the government releases data for June, the month when law enforcers recorded their largest single-day shabu haul yet for 2021.
Last 13 June, more than P1.053 billion worth of shabu was seized from Man Kuok Wong and Zhizun Chen, both Chinese nationals, in Cavite and Parañaque City, respectively.
Some P258.4 million more of the contraband was seized from Chen’s condominium unit and van in Manila, a week later.
A handful of other anti-drug operations after that reported capture of shabu with amounts surpassing P1 million and the current per kilogram value of P6.8 million.
In his national address last year, President Duterte said dealers and purveyors of illegal drugs stepped up their activities, under the shadow of the Covid- 19 pandemic.
True enough, various tactics by drug importers and dealers have been observed by enforcers since then.
Most, if not all, shabu stashes over 1 kilo were found concealed in packs of Chinese tea — a modus first seen in mid-2016 and has since become so common in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao that such items have earned the moniker “Tsaa-bu.”
Marijuana, the second-most abused drug in the country, was brought down from Kalinga in the form of bricks and tubes worth millions, aboard vehicles that somehow passed some quarantine checkpoints. One group that fetched a stash was caught even after using the car-switching strategy.
Party drugs like Ecstasy were sent by sources abroad to local recipients brazenly, via government-run post offices.
In Manila, pandemic-induced movement restrictions gave rise to delivery services, and the drug suppliers joined in.
Another apparent tactic that surfaced was the syndicates’ pitting of policemen against members of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency.
Wilkins Villanueva, PDEA Director-General, suspected that this was applied at least once in Quezon City, particularly in the incident that led to a deadly shootout between his agents and police along Commonwealth Avenue last 24 February.
Interestingly, the shabu haul between May 2020 and 2021 is already more than a third of the total confiscated contraband since the war on drugs began at the start of the President’s term.
This could mean that anti-drug operations were intensified or, just like what the President said in his 2020 SoNA, drug dealers indeed did some “intensifying” of their own.
Comparison of data from RealnumbersPH shows that 35,190 anti-drug operations were conducted between 31 May 2020 and 31 May 2021.
That figure is a 20.88 percent increase from all operations carried out as of May 2020.
They were, however, more than 800 operations short of the 36,013 conducted between May 2019 and 2020, only a bit higher than the 33,027 between May 2018 and 2019, much lower than the 40,121 between May 2017 and 2018; and a far cry from the 59,364 listed operations between 23 May 2017 and 1 July 2018.
Arrests made between May 2020 and 2021 stood at 48,706, lower than the 55,133 tallied in May 2019-2020.
The latest number of slain drug suspects was 425, almost double the 233 recorded between May 2019 and 2020 but less than half of both the 1,210 killed from May 2018-2019 and the 1,252 from May 2017-2018.
The drug war’s first “year” remains the bloodiest with at least 3,027 deaths.
Also noticeable in the latest government data was the dismantling of an additional four clandestine drug laboratories and 243 drug dens. No clandestine lab was reported found in the previous three years.
How far does the war on drugs still need to go? Nobody can tell.
An increase or decrease in the government’s average drug prices could help us guess, but the estimated amount for a gram of shabu has been kept at P6,800 the past couple of years.
While we’re at it, the PDEA’s self-imposed countdown to dealing a fatal blow to the drug menace by 30 June 2022 is still ticking. And ticking fast.