Fact-checking a Flip-flopping President
THE PRESIDENT’S words become public policy. So when President Duterte says something, media must be quick to examine the impact of his pronouncements.
CMFR cheers VERA Files for its efforts in fact-checking Duterte’s statements, pointing out the inconsistency of the positions he has taken on the government’s bloody war on drugs.
VERA Files’ most recent fact-check on the president tracked how Duterte flip-flopped on his promise to end the country’s supposed narcotics problem within three to six months—a claim Duterte consistently made during his campaign for presidency in 2016. The report recalled that the president’s promised deadline had already elapsed and called attention to the continuing revision of his unfulfilled pledge. The article was illustrated by a short video compilation of Duterte’s statements postponing his deadline. (“VERA FILES FACT CHECK: In his own words: Duterte’s drug war, so far,” September 4)
Two weeks prior, VERA Files also fact-checked Duterte’s claim that two to three cops die daily in his war on drugs—a claim which the president also made on three other occasions: on August 24 and October 26, 2016, and on March 25, 2017. The president repeated the claim during an August 21 media briefing in Malacañang where he was asked to comment on the killing of Grade 11 student Kian De Los Santos by Caloocan City policemen in an August 16 anti-drug operation.
VERA Files pointed out that the president’s claims did not match the data provided by “Real Numbers PH,” the official drug war figures released by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA). According to the PDEA figures, 68 law enforcers were killed in the conduct of anti-drug operations from July 1, 2016 to July 26, 2017, more than one year since Duterte assumed office. The report said PDEA’s numbers means two law enforcers are killed every ten days, much less than the number claimed Duterte. (“VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Duterte says 2-3 cops killed daily in war on drugs,” August 23)
VERA Files also noted that on the occasion of the Bureau of Internal Revenue’s (BIR) 113th founding anniversary on August 2, the president claimed he never ordered the police to kill. Duterte was citing as an example how he handled the peace and order situation, as well as the illegal drug issue in Davao City during his time as its mayor. The disclaimer came 29 minutes and 24 seconds into his 40 minute speech—only to take back his words a mere 34 seconds later, and just 35 minutes into his speech Duterte said: “…at the first sign of violence, pagka ganun, patayin mo (if it goes that way, kill them).” (“VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Duterte says he never ordered the police to kill anyone, backpedals less than a minute later”)
An accompanying video compilation showed Duterte making his contradictory statements. VERA Files said that Duterte’s denial of ordering the police to kill was “a strange claim” as in his first 100 days alone, “killing criminals has been a regular fixture” of his speeches. VERA FILES published a compilation of Duterte’s announcements encouraging killings and the disregard of laws in October 2016 (“Duterte: ‘I will kill you.’”). For instance, in May 16, 2016, Duterte said: “If you resist the arrest, tapos (and then) you offer a violent resistance, my order to the police and to the military is to shoot to kill.”
The renewed clamor against alleged cases of police brutality in the anti-illegal drug campaign calls for the press to be more vigilant in reporting Duterte’s statements, especially those that can be easily interpreted by law-enforcement agents as marching orders. The drug war has turned into a bloodbath and leaders must be held to account. And a truthful record will allow us to do this.
It is the responsibility of the press to recall what the president did say and remind the public as well as the president when he ends up contradicting himself. The aim should be to require the president to accept the responsibility for his statements.