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How Rappler misled EU, Human Rights Watch, CNN, Time, BBC — the world

Stop using that fake news of ‘7,000 summarily executed’

AS Mark Twain put it, a lie can travel around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.

A section in the European Union Parliament’s resolution last Thursday that interfered with our justice system and condemned the government’s campaign against illegal drugs read: “7,000 drug-related killings by the police and vigilantes have been reported since President Duterte took office on 30 June 2016.”

That 7,000 is the same number Vice President Leni Robredo used in her message last week to the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs to rant against Duterte. It is the same figure that was used in the very critical report on the country by New York-based Human Rights Watch. It is the same figure used again and again by Western media, such as CNN, BBC, Time, and even the New York Times — all citing the Philippine National Police as its source. Even Al-Jazeera and Wikipedia cite this 7,000 number.

That 7,000 figure is false, from a fake news fabricated (or stupidly calculated) by the financially-bleeding news website Rappler (rappler.com) and repeated in Hitlerian fashion by Yellow propagandists that even Western media which are normally fact-check obsessive, have assumed it to be an accurate figure released by the PNP. Rappler has been very much an anti-Duterte news outfit, and is now mostly funded by the American firms North Base Media and Omidyar (whose owner had founded eBay).

The article by Rappler was first posted September 13 and, regularly updated, reads:

“There had been over 7,000 deaths linked to the ‘war on drugs’ – both from legitimate police operations and vigilante-style or unexplained killings (including deaths under investigation) from July 1, 2016 to January 31, 2017.”

It gave a breakdown of its more precise 7,080 figure, which it claimed was “based on revised PNP data at the end of that period,” as follows:

The Rappler report is so patently wrong, I can only attribute it not to stupidity but to malice. It included 4,525 “deaths under investigation or investigation concluded” as killings related to the ant-drug war – which they aren’t!

The PNP’s regular reports on “victims in cases of deaths under investigation or investigation concluded” refer to all murders and homicides, whether it is the result of road rage, robbery, or deadly love triangles— and not just those related to the anti-illegal drug campaign. Rappler very wrongly and perhaps maliciously  classified these deaths as due to Duterte’s war against illegal  drugs, therefore bloating  three times the number of  people killed in the course of that campaign.

Somebody should be fired at the PNP—or Malacañang’s communications team— for allowing the Rappler lie to go unchallenged for six months, that Western media, and now even the European Union Parliament, have swallowed it hook, line and sinker, and have even disseminated it.

After Rappler’s false report that its 7,080 figure referred to those killed “from legitimate police operations and vigilante-style or unexplained killings,” Robredo and other yellow hacks have since used this figure, for example, in her UN message, as the number of people “killed in summary executions.” This has created a very false picture of a country in which police lined up drug suspects on the wall and shot them dead.

It was only last week that a PNP spokesperson pointed out how terribly wrong that 7,000 figure which Robredo used in her message to the UN narcotics body was. He said that, according to PNP data, there were 2,582 killed in legitimate drug operations so far, not 7,000, and that “deaths under investigation” includes “all crimes happening on the streets.”

Even as I, and the PNP, have pointed out its mistake to Rappler, it has not apologized for its error, nor has it deleted its fake news. Is that responsible journalism?

But do we have any means to check the PNP’s figures, to find out if they are credible?

We have. To the credit of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, hardly a pro-Duterte newspaper, it listed, based on police blotters and the dispatches of their national network of police reporters, killings related to the anti-drug war, from July 1 to February 16, when government officially halted, temporarily, its campaign. The list was detailed, with the names of the victims if available, where they were killed in case of police operations, or if they were found dead, murdered by what the paper termed as “unidentified hit men.”

Based on the PDI’s raw data, we extracted the following:
• There were 2,107 killed in the campaign against illegal drugs from July 1 to February 16, which is even smaller than the PNP’s figure of 2,582, even if the police’s number includes drug-related deaths up to March 15.

• Out of this, 1,137, or 54 percent of the total, were killed in police “buy-bust” and Operation Tokhang* operations, as well as in the course of serving of search or arrest warrants. Some 970, or 40 percent, were found dead – “killed by unknown hit men,” as the PDI described it.

• Other than the 132 killed with such notes on cardboards pinned on the corpses saying, “I am a drug lord”, or a “I am a pusher,” the paper however doesn’t explain how it, or the police, concluded that the other 838 killed were killed as a result of the anti-drug war.

• Some 385, or 18 percent, couldn’t be identified.

Some 2,107 people killed in the anti-drug war in seven and a half months of course is still deplorable, but far from the 7,000 that Rappler and Robredo claim, and certainly gives a new perspective in assessing Duterte’s anti-drug war

Furthermore, the geographical distribution of those killed in the anti-drug war is revealing: 1,131, or 55 percent, of the 2,048 cases in which their location was determined, are only in five cities, known to be havens of the illegal-drug trade: Quezon City, Cebu, Manila, Pasay and Pasig.

It would make very good sense for Duterte to focus his anti-drug war on these five cities. Their mayors though should be taken to task as to why the illegal-drug trade has proliferated so much in their cities: Quezon City’s Herbert Bautista, Cebu City’s Tomas Osmeña, Manila’s Joseph Estrada, and Pasig’s Robert Eusebio. As a former mayor, Duterte I’m sure can have a heart-to-heart talk with these ineffectual mayors.

On the other hand, if Robredo and other human rights champions are really sincere about stopping the summary executions of suspected drug pushers and addicts, they should focus their limited resources on these five cities to expose and prevent human rights abuses.

Rather than just bawl and beg the UN to interfere.

*”Tokhang” is a neologism consisting of the Visayan words toktok (knock) and hangyo (beseech). Operation Operation Tokhang supposedly involves the police knocking on the homes of suspected drug addicts and pushers to ask them to stop their criminal activities. But, the police claims, many of the suspects decided instead to fight the police, resulting in their deaths.