PNP’s Claim: No EJKs, Only Homicide
Media Sort Out Clarifications
“PERSISTENT AND irritating” was how Philippine National Police (PNP) Director General Ronald Dela Rosa described the supposed misuse of police data by the media and Vice President Leni Robredo in claiming that the government’s war on drugs have resulted into more than 7,000 deaths.
The continued coverage on the anti-drug campaign was recently called out by the country’s tourism chief who urged the media and Robredo to “tone down” references to “extrajudicial killings” (EJKs) as these make it hard to sell the Philippines as a tourist destination. Presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella meanwhile called The New York Times a “well-paid hack job” for publishing an article profiling President Rodrigo Duterte and the violence he had experienced in his life.
In a press briefing in Camp Crame on March 27, Dela Rosa denied that the killings were state-sponsored and slammed sectors who he claimed were out to discredit Duterte and his centerpiece program. The PNP chief also claimed that the use of the term “extrajudicial killings” originated from some media sectors, but failed to give a specific example. In the same venue, the PNP presented the latest police stats on the country’s drug war with 6,011 killed from July 1, 2016 to March 24, 2017. Interestingly, Dela Rosa now used the general classification of “homicides” or ordinary criminal killing, breaking down the total into 1,398 cases confirmed to be drug related while 3,785 remain under investigation. 828 were said to be not drug related, of which 751 were due to personal grudges; 22 due to property disputes; 20 involved a “love triangle;” 13 were due to threat groups such as bandits and insurgents; 10 due to family disputes; 11 work-related and one involved the killing of an activists. Finally, of the 6,011 cases, 1,427 were already resolved while 4,584 were still for “case buildup.”
Media picked up the PNP chief’s statements with barely any question, failing to take note and assert that the problem lies in the inconsistencies in the data released by the police, along with the lack of information on results of police investigation.
CMFR monitored reports from the newspapers Manila Bulletin, the Philippine Daily Inquirer, The Philippine Star; Malaya, Manila Standard, The Daily Tribune and The Manila Times; news programs 24 Oras and Saksi (GMA-7), Aksyon and Aksyon Tonite (TV5), News Night and Newsroom (CNN Philippines), and TV Patrol and Bandila (ABS-CBN 2); as well as relevant news websites from March 27 to 30, 2017.
Timid or Intimidated
Dela Rosa’s statements and the latest statistics on the drug war made it in print and broadcast’s news agenda. But the coverage was brief, with most reports simply repeating the PNP chief’s claims. Media did not prod Dela Rosa to give a concrete example of a media report using the term “extrajudicial killings” to describe recorded deaths in the campaign. Media should have included in their reports quotes from their earlier stories which prove that the statistics on the drug war came from the police and other government authorities.
While it is true that the term EJK has been used, the media have not usually cited the numbers, unless quoting from other organizations reporting on the death count of the anti-drug campaign. However, the use of EJKs is to be expected because a number of the fatalities were killed in the course of police operations.
The Manila Times pursued the angle of EJKs as part of “demolition” efforts against Duterte, quoting both Dela Rosa’s complaint against the media and Abella’s criticism of the NYT. (“’Drug lords behind Duterte smear drive,’” March 28)
Cheer: Analyzing the data
Few reports looked at the matter more deeply.
Rappler came up with a timeline showing the PNP’s inconsistencies in releasing data on the anti-drug campaign. These include inconsistent use of categories and terms in presenting “deaths under investigation” (DUI) statistics, different criteria in classifying a killing, shifting numbers in the data, and lack of a clearer breakdown of numbers. All these contributed to “even more confusion in the interpretation of the data.” (“TIMELINE: The PNP’s use of the term ‘deaths under investigation,’” March 30)
A March 27 report aired in Saksi, which carried the latest police data, stressed that this was the first time that ordinary homicides were pulled out of the total numbers previously classified as drug-related.
The story cited two cases previously reported as EJKs: the killing of Bertes father and son by Pasay police and of crime watch leader Zenaida Luz by two disguised policemen in Oriental Mindoro in July and October 2016.
Furthermore, it referred to two separate findings by an Amnesty International (AI) report which detailed the confession of a police officer about being paid to kill suspects, and that of Human Rights Watch (HRW) which said that many killings by unidentified suspects were actually carried out by policemen or those working closely with them.
In addition, the report took exception of the PNP data’s claims that the rate of focused crimes went down from 158,897 to 78,941, noting that the comparison was made between two time frames of different lengths: the last 52 weeks of the Aquino administration (July 1, 2015 to June 30, 2016) versus the first 37 weeks of the Duterte government (July 1, 2016 to March 16, 2017). Moreover, although murder and homicide cases did go down in the said comparison period, the data’s daily average showed that murder incidents actually increased from 25 to 33.
Aired late at night, the special should be aired again so that more people can understand the problems of reporting the anti-drug campaign. The media have to be watchful about being misled by their sources, in this case, the PNP, which would have to defend its record when more evidence comes out about the involvement of police in reckless attacks against suspects who are still protected by the law.
Instead of merely echoing the words of police authorities, the media must exert more effort in parsing the data at hand to be able to point out inconsistencies and to clear up any confusion in the coverage, should there be any.