ANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday announced he was firing Dangerous Drug Board Chairman Benjamin Reyes for "contradicting your own government" by presenting drug user data based on a government-commissioned survey.
"I would like to put to task publicly this Reyes," the president said in a speech upon his return from Russia, a trip that had to be cut short because of the crisis in Marawi City in Lanao del Sur and the declaration of martial law in Mindanao.
Duterte said that former Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency Director General Dionisio Santiago told him five years ago that the country had an estimated 3 million drug users.
It is unclear what Santiago's basis was since, according to a Rappler report on government drug data, the PDEA did not release data to the public except in 2008, when there were 1.7 million drug users in the Philippines.
"Ang binigay ni Reyes sa chairman sa dangerous board [sic]... yung accomplishment ni Bato... 'yung PNP. That's 1.8 (million)," the president said.
But the figure of 1.8 million is actually from the DDB's 2015 Nationwide Survey on the Nature and Extent of Drug Abuse in the Philippines, the results of which were released in September 2016.
READ: 4M drug users 'in the realm of possibility,' DDB insists
If anything, Reyes, in an interview with Philstar.com in February, tried to justify Duterte's figure of 4 million drug users.
"Pero may margin of error kasi iyan na plus or minus five percent, so it can even go as high as—so 2.3 plus 5 percent, that's 7.3 percent. That's even higher than the global average," Reyes said then. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimates a global average of 5.2 percent.
But Alyson Yap, a full-time member of the faculty at Ateneo de Manila University's Department of Quantitative Methods and Information Technology, said in February that Reyes' assessment was incorrect and that the chairman was making a dangerous conclusion.
Yap, who teaches combined statistics and operations management, said that using the the rate and confidence level used in the DDB report, the range would actually be "between 0.0185 to 0.0267 or between 1.85 percent to 2.67 percent only." That is around 1.4 million to 2 million people.
"Dala-dala nung babae, 1.8 ... na I have been telling everybody that there is about 4 million drug addicts... and here comes a chairman... you're fired," the president said on Wednesday.
Duterte may have been referring to UN Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard, who has been critical of the government's drug war, and who was at a drug policy forum at the University of the Philippines this month. Reyes, as DDB chair, also spoke at the forum.
"You do not contradict your own government," the president said.
The president said that the figures of the PDEA and the Philippine National Police is the "correct count," adding the "civilian" Reyes is not an "implementer" of the law.
The Dangerous Drugs Board, which is attached to the Office of the President, sets the country's drug policy. The PDEA and PNP are technically civilian agencies.
PDEA: 4.7M drug users in Philippines
At a forum earlier this month, the PDEA claimed that the number of drug users is at 4.7 million.
The DDB survey indicated that more than 4.74 million persons in the country, or 6.1 percent of the population aged 10-69, have used illegal drugs at least once in their lifetime.
But, when Philstar.com sent PDEA a Freedom of Information request on what the basis for the estimate of 4.7 million was, the PDEA said the DDB and the PNP would be able to answer the questions better.
In a response to Philstar.com, PDEA Director Adzhar Albani, a PDEA 11 decision maker, said:
You asked for Basis for PDEA estimate of 4.7 million drug users.
The 4.7 million drug users is based on the the survey conducted by the Dangerous Drug Board itself plus based on the survey & operations as well of the Philippine National Police dubbed as the "Oplan Tokhang"
Please note that we are only able to provide such information to what you have requested. If you wish to get a copy of the data on how they conducted their survey, parameters used etc, you may address your request directly to the Dangerous Drugs Board and/or the Philippine National Police.
The 1.8 million figure from the DDB survey was also the basis for the PNP's drug targets for 2016.