Last of 2 parts
LAST Monday I wrote about how the International Criminal Court’s two prosecutors’ report on alleged widespread extrajudicial killings (EJKs) under President Duterte’s war on illegal drugs (WoD) were to a great extent based on biased and false articles in the news website Rappler, which was dedicated to demonize the former president. In short, it relied for its accusations on media accounts, which in a system of justice are mere hearsay, inadmissible as evidence.
More than 27 percent (116 out of 441 citations) of the sources the ICC used were from Rappler, which strived for six years now to portray Duterte as a bloody authoritarian. The ICC prosecutors swallowed hook, line and sinker that outfit’s claims, even if many of these — such as their false report on number of those killed — had been incontrovertibly proven to be false. Very anomalously, the ICC prosecutors didn’t cite articles in mainstream media that had been operating for decades and had proven to be accurate and objective, and which presented a different picture from what that website, just a few years old then, claimed.
The ICC based its recommendation to undertake a full-blown investigation of alleged EJKs during Duterte’s administration on three other sources that were nearly as fanatically partisan against the WoD as Rappler. These were Reuters’ reportage from December 2016 to mid-2017, as well as those also during this period by the Manila office of Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.
The Reuters coverage was by a team “parachuted” by its headquarters working with an old colleague and friend of mine, Manuel Mogato, who had been with the Reuters Manila bureau for 15 years, and known to be a true believer of the Yellow Cult, and therefore likely to be ideologically biased against Duterte, at that time the Yellows’ nemesis.
The ICC’s 80 citations of Reuters articles it presented as “evidence” of widespread EJKs actually involved only 18 articles, cited repeatedly. The most repeated article and representative of the Reuters reporters’ utter disregard for basic journalistic principles was an April 2017 piece titled, “Police describe kill rewards, staged crime scenes in Duterte’s drug war” by-lined by Mogato (mainly) with one Clare Baldwin.
The article’s lead is shocking: “The Philippine police have received cash payments for executing drug suspects, planted evidence at crime scenes and carried out most of the killings they have long blamed on vigilantes, said two senior officers who are critical of President Rodrigo Duterte’s “war on drugs.”
What were the two reporters’ basis for such a very extraordinary claim? Two anonymous sources: “Two senior officers, one a retired police intelligence officer and the other an active-duty commander.” Not even in an opinion column can I make such a terrible accusation against the police, and the government, based on just two “anonymous sources, ” as their anonymity would merely conceal their ulterior motivations for their allegations.
The Reuters’ reporters couldn’t even identify the rank of the “active-duty” commander who could have even been — if he were a real person, and not an invented one — a mere commander of a squad of traffic cops hateful of the Duterte government for not being promoted sooner than he wanted.
Knowing Mogato, the “retired police intelligence officer” would have been the late police general Rodolfo “Boogie” Mendoza, who liked to socialize with foreign correspondents to regale them with his exploits as the top anti-communist hunter. I wouldn’t be surprised if he had become a bitter man toward his former colleagues and the government as a whole, since after his retirement in 2009 he had not been appointed to a civilian post fitting his stellar accomplishments against the communist movement. (Mendoza died in 2018, or after Mogato’s interviews.)
Mogato claimed that Mendoza had written a 26-page report that “exposed” Duterte and the police establishment’s complicity in the widespread EJKs committed during the WoD. Just the first page of the report (titled “The State-sponsored Extrajudicial Killings in the Philippines”) would make anyone doubt its objectivity and even the author’s sanity. “The Philippine drug war,” the report claimed, is one phase of “social cleansing.”
“The anti-drug campaign has a mass character hinged on Marxist theory,” it declared, betraying the author’s very long exposure to studying the communist movement. No wonder Mogato and Reuters chose not to publish the study nor quote its assertions, even if the reporter wasn’t bound to the author’s possible restrictions since he claimed, “The document has been shared with leaders of the Catholic Church in the Philippines and with the government-funded Commission on Human Rights.” These two entities also did not make that crazy study public.
The Reuters article claimed: “Almost 9,000 people, many small-time users and dealers, have been killed since Duterte took office on June 30.” That’s false. The article didn’t even bother to explain how it arrived at that 9,000 figure as of April 2017, or the date the piece was published. Figures of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency — a civilian organization independent from the police — reported only 2,091, and neither Reuters nor any other organization has debunked that figure. At the end of Duterte’s watch, the official report said casualties in the WoD amounted to 6,251.
The Reuters coverage of the WoD threw journalistic principles to the dustbin. Rather than objectively reporting on the campaign, it provided lurid details of about 25 cases of alleged firefights by suspected drug dealers, quotes their relatives’ claims of their innocence and then makes a huge jump into concluding all of the “9,000” killed as of 2017 involved police killing of unarmed civilians, so that Duterte is guilty of crimes against humanity.
Reuters’ ubiquitous use of dozens of dramatic, obviously enhanced photos of corpses surrounded by police (which is standard procedure actually) and of relatives of the killed wailing by their coffin, and the crafting of article titles using heart-tugging tabloidish quotes — “Killing mosquitos” (a quote from an unnamed policeman referring to the alleged drug pushers killed), “Burying the truth,” “We have to plant evidence” — certainly make for riveting reading. They can’t be used though to indict a country nor its president, until each and every account of EJKs is separately investigated by the ICC.
After Reuter, the most cited articles by the ICC prosecutors were by the NGO Human Rights Watch, which was quoted 61 times. Such demonization of Duterte through HRW is almost entirely the accomplishment of one Carlos Conde whose journalism career — if one might even call it that — has almost entirely involved, since he started work at the leftist news website bulatlat.com, efforts to demonize all administrations, as if these would help bring them down and usher in a revolution.
The HRW website describes Conde’s “specialization”: “He has done research on extrajudicial killings of activists, journalists, legal professionals, peasant leaders, environmentalists, and Indigenous peoples. He has also documented allegations of torture, enforced disappearances, and press freedom violations.” In short, he is biased, his income comes from protesting alleged human rights abuses in the Philippines.
While ICC prosecutors cited Conde’s articles 61 times, 49 or 80 percent of this referred only to one March 2017 article, which as in the Reuters pieces were formulated in tabloid fashion, “License to kill: Philippine Police Killings in Duterte’s War on Drugs.”
The piece follows the Reuters template of using anecdotal, melodramatic reports to conclude that there was widespread killing by the police. In this case, after falsely claiming as Reuters did that there were 7,000 killed in Duterte’s WoD, the report claims it investigated 32 deaths, although there was really no indication in it that it did so for that many.
The HRW report actually made an astounding claim: “No evidence thus far shows that Duterte planned or ordered specific extrajudicial killings. But Duterte’s repeated calls for killings as part of his anti-drug campaign could constitute acts instigating law enforcement to commit the crime of murder. His statements encouraging vigilantes among the general population to commit violence against suspected drug users could constitute incitement to violence.”
That’s certainly a stretch. Duterte’s fondness for exaggeration and obviously rhetorical “calling or killings” caused the police force to violate their oaths to uphold the law?
The HRW didn’t even derive its attention-getting “License to Kill” title from its own investigation nor from any source in the Philippines. It was a quote from UN special rapporteur on summary executions, Agnes Callamard, who had condemned Duterte’s rhetorical statements encouraging Filipinos to hit back at drug pushers as giving them a “license to kill.”
The ICC cited Amnesty International 58 times as a basis for its recommendations to undertake an investigation for crimes against humanity against Duterte and his officials. Thirty-nine or two-thirds of these referred to just one AI article, cited so many times, its very title revealing its deep bias: “If you are poor, you are killed.”
That attention-getting quote was by an unidentified relative of an alleged drug pusher killed by the police. Even if there is a grain of truth to it, why would AI use such a quote for the title of its report, if not to generate outrage against the Philippine government rather than present an objective assessment of the human rights situation in the Philippines?
The AI report follows the Reuters and HRW template. It claims to investigate 33 incidents which involved the killing of 59 alleged drug-involved people. It then claims that a “vast majority”—without mentioning the exact number — of these people were victims of EJKs. It then concludes that the vast majority of what it falsely claimed were 7,025 killed by the time of its report were EJK victims. (As pointed out earlier, the official figure is 2,091 in 2017, which hasn’t been disproven.)
Based on false assumptions, it concludes in melodramatic, hug-tugging words: ” Every night, the bodies of at least a handful of alleged drug offenders end up in morgues across the country, riddled with bullet holes.”
Make no mistake: Duterte’s WoD, especially in its early stages from 2016 to the first months of 2017, resulted in horrific killings of a number of unarmed Filipinos suspected of involvement in the drug trade. This is not surprising as any kind of war does have such casualties, and especially in this case when the police themselves had been terrorized by reprisals by the drug cartels. In fact, in the Philippine government’s reply to the ICC prosecutors’ claims, the Solicitor General provided details of the status of investigations against 52 policemen accused of EJKs.
The AI’s bias or its report’s absurdity is obvious in that just as the ICC prosecutors almost entirely relied on reports of a biased media, mainly Rappler, AI also relied on about 30 Rappler articles and 26 from Reuters.
It is an absurd loop that created the fiction of widespread EJKs during Duterte’s watch. A biased media’s report gains traction when it is quoted by an NGO like AI. That media outlet in turn quotes that NGO’s reports.
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