MANILA – Six weeks after President Duterte’s unprecedented manner of firing the Dangerous Drugs Board chairman – ordering him to resign, during an arrival speech, for contradicting data he had been using on drug addicts – the President appointed as new DDB chief retired General Dionisio Santiago, whose data on illegal drugs he had always sworn by.
Santiago’s appointment was confirmed by Presidentual Spokesman Ernesto Abella, who said in a statement Sunday, “General Santiago’s return to the national government with his appointment to the DDB will greatly contribute to the President’s vision of a drug-free Philippines.”
Abella added that Santiago’s “expertise and advocacy is fighting illegal drugs, which became his platform when he ran in the last elections.”
Santiago once served as Director-General of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) in a previous administration, and the data he gave then, some five years ago – 3 million – had been the basis for Duterte’s oft-repeated claim that there are by this time at least 4 million drug addicts in the country.
In contrast, the DDB under the dismissed chairman Benjamin Reyes, had been using a 2015 survey that put the number at much lower, at 1.8 million.
In a presentation at a forum hosted by the University of the Philippines on May 5-6 where he shared the stage with UN Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard, the then-DDB chairman had used that low figure too.
Apparently, this did not sit well with the President, who fired Reyes on May 24, as he returned from his trip to Russia, cut short by the siege of Marawi.
“And I would like to put to task publicly this (Benjamin) Reyes. You know five years ago, [Dionisio] Santiago who was the PDEA chief gave us a figure of three million,” Duterte had said in his arrival speech.
“Ang binigay ni Reyes sa chairman sa Dangerous Board, ‘yung accomplishment ni Bato ng PNP. That’s 1.8. And dala-dala ng babae [referring to Callamard] was 1.8. When I have been telling everybody, everything that there’s about four million drug addict(s),” the President said.
“You’re fired today. Get out of the service,” Duterte said, publicly addressing Reyes, who was not at the airport. “You do not contradict your own government…You’re just a civilian member of a board.”