Finally – and not before time – the Philippine National Police (PNP) have responded to the bald fiction that 7,000 people have been killed in the country’s War on Drugs. After months of vagueness and silence they have now provided some clarity concerning the true death figures.
The PNP’s crime here is not that it engaged in the mass killing of low-level drug offenders, as much of the mass media and others contend. Its crime is that it inadequately briefed the press and the public about the actual death toll and failed to adequately respond to charges that law enforcement was responsible for a mountain of bodies rising from police actions in its illegal-drugs campaign.
Assertions that 7,000 people have been killed in drug-related actions were never properly refuted. They were dismissed certainly, but the PNP never made any real effort to show how drug-war victims are differentiated from homicides, murders, suspicious killings and deaths under investigation Nor did it explain those categories.
Maybe it was too busy, maybe it felt it didn’t need to, maybe it felt the claim was too fantastic to be dignified with a response. But the PNP’s silence and general vagueness concerning this figure only served to give the claim more credibility.
And that’s all the critics and enemies of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte needed to paint him as a psychopath; all they needed to allege he’d committed crimes against humanity; all they’d needed to file an impeachment case against him; all they’d needed to pursue a strategy to divide the country and replace his government with one of their own choosing.
We don’t expect the loud-mouth New York Times which has perpetuated this lie – hoping perhaps for a Pulitzer Prize or to stem its hemorrhaging circulation – to make a retraction. Of course not. But we do expect the international community to stop mimicking the NYT and trying to build a case on factually flawed data. The United Nations has quoted this figure as has the European Union.
So, in an attempt to set the record straight, here’s the breakdown of the figure as now presented by the PNP.
Between 1 July 2016 when Duterte took office, and 24 March this year, 2,555 people have died as a result of police actions in the illegal-drugs campaign. A further 6,021 have died and are generally classified as “homicide cases”. This latter number is what constitutes the 7,000 so-called extrajudicial killings which are constantly being blamed on Duterte. This is the figure that needs explaining.
Of these, 1,398 are proved to be drug-related while drugs have been ruled out in 828 death incidents. This leaves 3,785 deaths which are currently under investigation.
That may seem like a lot of death, but in a Philippine context it’s not. In fact it’s quite low. Under the previous Liberal administration of Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino, there were 9,756 murders and 3,249 homicides in 2014 and 9,643 murders and 2,835 homicides in 2015. Death tolls then of 13,005 and 12,478 for the respective years. And something else, murders and homicides weren’t investigated any faster then than they are now.
So how did the 7,000 number come into being? Well, first of all it’s a round number so there’s no attempt to frame it as accurate. It’s therefore an estimate based, we believe, on lumping together those that died during legitimate police actions (the 2,555), and a guesstimate from the rest – say, 35%. That would give an addition 4445 “drug-related” deaths bringing the total neatly to 7,000. Alternatively, it could have simply have been arrived at by adding the 2,555 known drugs-war killings by the police to the 4,525 recorded murders committed in the Philippines between July 2016 and January this year. This would give a total 7,080.
Either way, that’s how we believe the New York Times did the maths and unless they can show otherwise we’ll stand by it. Certainly, it’s never backed up its claim with any corroborative figures; any actual data. What this rag has constantly implied is that there have been up to 4,500 illegal drug-war-related killings attributable to the PNP and/or its proxies – they being vigilante groups which the NYT would have us believe are working as some sort of supplementary law-enforcement unit.
The PNP through its commander, Director-General Ronald Dela Rosa (photo), however, has also finally kicked back against the term “extrajudicial killings” (or, EJKs) which the media and others use interchangeably with “state-sponsored” and “Duterte-inspired” without producing a scintilla of actual evidence. Anecdotal babble – which we can all produce – is not evidence, even though it forms the entire case against the War on Drugs.
The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) which has been highly critical of the drugs war, recently disassociated itself from linking EJKs to the administration. “We never said it was state-sponsored. What we know is there are vigilante killings done during police operations,” CHR Commissioner Gwendolyn Gana has said. We’re not sure precisely what she means by that, and certainly have seen no evidence produced by the CHR that shows police and vigilantes have worked together in any anti-drugs operation.
Dela Rosa also reported that 13 police officers have been charged with drugs-related killings and that a further 76 have been charged with a number of drug offences including drug-use, pushing and protecting drug lords. Well, it’s good to get that information at last also.
But while we can and do blame the PNP for not dealing with these issues earlier, we also draw attention once more to just how wanting the New York Times is as a journal of record. It could never show those figures to be accurate, but arrogantly it believed it never needed to. It was just a good number – impressive, looked good in the headline. And anyway, nobody was seriously going to question it; it would never need to prove it, it would get away with it. After all, it’s the New York Times.
Well it hasn’t. It won’t retract its allegations, of course – its entire anti-Duterte coverage is based on these figures. But that’s the true measure of NYT “journalism”. Lack of verification, blatant fabrication and biased politically motivated “reporting”. It’s been guilty of it before and it will do it wherever its political agenda demands. This paper is about as far away from the profession of journalism that it’s possible to get.
No-one seriously thinks of the NYT as a credible international news organ; it’s a long way from being the International Herald Tribune which it swallowed up in a 2002 acquisition. Back in its home country, its editorial policy is currently geared to bringing down the US presidency of Donald Trump. It’s other overseas regime-change ambitions, apart from removing Duterte, is to bring down the Russian president, Vladimir Putin.
Of course its loud mouth and its inflated opinion about itself far exceed its authority. This is a paper with a struggling circulation of 571,500 and falling. It’s also unapologetically in the camp of the US Democratic Party. The NYT hasn’t endorsed a Republican presidential candidate since its endorsement of Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956. In every single presidential race since then – all 15 of them – it’s swung its support behind the Democrat candidate, helping to bring seven of them to power.
If you believe, as the NYT Editorial Board obviously does, that it’s the function of a newspaper to undermine governments and seek regime change, then the New York Times is the paper for you. If you believe, as we do, that newspapers should not be beholden to political parties and that their role is to provide unbiased information about what’s going on in the world, then this is the last paper you should be reading.
For the record, since the PNP re-launched anti-narcotics operations on 6 March, 20 drug criminals have been killed in police actions and 4,160 have been arrested. A further 25,319 drug pushers and users surrendered.