Free from Fact: Reuters Checks Duterte’s Figures on Drugs
WHEN President Rodrigo Duterte launched his “war on drugs,” local and international media chronicled the events that were unfolding with daily reports. In July, CMFR noted the superficial reporting by local media (“Anti-Drug Campaign: Swallowing Everything the Police Says”) but succeeding months saw improvements in the coverage of some media organizations. ABS-CBNNews.com, for instance has recently launched new research on the profiles of the drug war victims. The international media, however, has done a better job providing more background about crime and drugs in the Philippines, eliciting some backlash from the administration and its supporters, particularly on social media.
The British news agency Reuters posted “As death toll rises, Duterte deploys dubious data in ‘war on drugs’” on Oct. 18 that took a closer look at the data on illegal drug users, the drugs used, and the number of users needing treatment that the President Duterte himself cites so often. Reuters determined that his claims were dubious and not based on existing evidence, even as recorded by Philippine agencies.
Time magazine (“Inside President Rodrigo Duterte’s War on Drugs,” Aug. 25) cited data provided by international agencies tracking drugs and crime, which raised doubts about claims made by President Duterte. Reuters’ investigation was the first major examination by any media outlet – local or foreign –that examined claims used by government to justify the war on drugs that have killed more than 4,000 people since it began on July 1.
The Reuters piece reviewed several claims of the administration. In his first State of the Nation Address, President Duterte said that there were 3.7 million drug addicts. Reuters noted that the 2015 survey of the Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) pegged the number at 1.8 million. The discrepancy, however, does not matter to Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) Metro Manila Regional Director Wilkins Villanueva, who the report quoted as saying: “He (Duterte) just exaggerates it so we will know that the problem is very big.”
The article also discussed the claim made by the administration in its booklet “Winning the First Phase of the Drug War” that 75 percent of heinous crimes in the country have gone down. The source of this information is unknown. According to Reuters, the booklet was handed out by the president’s media team in September during a regional summit in Laos.
Two months after Duterte assumed office, the government credited the drug war for helping reduce crime in the country (“Duterte’s drug war lowered crime rate,” The Philippine Star, Aug. 14). Looking at the statistics from the Crime Research and Analysis Center under the Philippine National Police Directorate for Investigation and Detective Management (DIDM), however, Reuters pointed out that the crime rate has been falling since 2013.
Reuters also quoted Australia’s National Drug and Alcohol Research Center Researcher Alison Ritter as saying that the rise and fall of the crime rate “can’t be attributed to a single campaign or a single institution such as the police.”
Distinguishing between one-time users and problem or perennial users is vital in an anti-narcotics battle. The Reuters report notes that the president uses the term “drug addicts” to apply to both and does not distinguish between users of shabu or crystal methamphetamine and marijuana. The piece cited academics who pointed out that there is a difference between the two substances, with the former having a higher risk of addiction and its being “associated with a greater range of physical and psychological harms.”
Some local media reports record everything that the government says without question, which can serve to legitimize propaganda claims. Reuters checked and found that the numbers dished out by Duterte officials did not quite add up. The public has accepted these claims with many willing to go along with the idea that the killings are necessary. The times demand a more critical and more enterprising press. Journalistic skepticism is a healthy response to a government that likes speaking in hyperbole.
(See infographic here)