Mega-rehab center a 'miscalculation' – Drugs Board Chief

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 2) — The 10,000-bed mega-drug facility in Fort Magsaysay, Nueva Ecija is a "miscalculation," the Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) chief said Thursday.

Speaking to CNN Philippines' The Source, DDB Chair Dionisio Santiago clarified a previous statement that the major rehabilitation center was "impractical" and "a mistake."

"It's not a 'mistake.' Parang... miscalculation," said Santiago. "May miscalculation ang mga nag-advise niyan."

Instead, Santiago prefers smaller regional and community-based facilities, which he believes will only cost P300 million each.

"Naghahanap pa kami ng budget. Eh ba't mo ibibigay doon kung puwede [dito]? 'Yung regional, mas malapit iyan eh," the chief said.

"Yung support system ng mga victims, mas malapit. We want to bring it closer kung puwede, sa mga munisipyo, mas cheaper iyon," he added.

(Translation: We still need a budget. Why would you put your money there when you can put it here? Regional [facilities] are closer. The support system for victims is closer. We want to bring it as close to the municipalities as possible, it would be cheaper.)

Santiago formerly headed the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) before taking the helm of the Dangerous Drugs Board. Last month, President Rodrigo Duterte gave PDEA the sole responsibility of overseeing its controversial war against drugs.

However, in a press briefing on Thursday, Malacanang Palace maintained that the center was a donation and the government did not spend on it.

"Walang pera ng gobyerno na ginastos sa mega-rehab centers. That was a decision made by the donor," said newly-appointed Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque.

The 100,000-square meter facility in Nueva Ecija opened last year, with help from a donation of ₱1.4 billion from Chinese businessman and philanthropist Huang Rulun.

'Drug users are victims'

Through the DDB's new 'Love Life, Fight Drugs' campaign, Santiago is gunning for a "soft approach" to the rehabilitation of drug users that utilizes the teaching of livelihood skills, and programs in education and sports.

"Ang starting point diyan is the realization... that somebody hooked into drugs is a victim. Lahat iyan, puro victim of circumstance," said Santiago.

"Naging user ka, naging pusher ka, naging drug lord ka, may pinanggalingan na circumstance iyan eh. Hindi ka naman automatic, pumasok diyan eh," he added.

(The starting point there is the realization... that somebody hooked into drugs is a victim. Everyone there is a victim of circumstance. If you're a user who became a pusher, who became a drug lord, that comes from a certain circumstance. You don't get into it automatically.)

In June 2017, the Philippine Information Agency reported that the government facilitated 1.3 million surrenders from drug users and personalities.

The number of drug users in the Philippines is unclear. A 2015 study by the DDB reported 1.8 million drug users, but Duterte has claimed as many as four million. In a previous interview with The Source, Santiago said his initial peg of 3 million users was a "guesstimate."