Are #RealNumbers real? Rights defenders question state data on drug war

Patrick Quintos, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 06 2018 08:53 PM | Updated as of Jan 18 2019 06:19 PM

Women from the human rights community, academe, and the media lead the forum titled "War on Drugs: Looking Beyond the Numbers." From left to right: Malou Mangahas of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, University of the Philippines Professor Clarissa David, Commission on Human Rights spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia, Rose Trajano of the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates, Rowena Legaspi of the Children's Legal Rights and Development Center, and Lily Flordelis of the Network Against Killings in the Philippines. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - Human rights defenders on Thursday questioned the veracity and depth of the government's statistics, officially called "Real Numbers," on President Rodrigo Duterte's controversial war against drugs.

Data from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency showed that as of March 20, 2018, 4,075 drug-linked individuals have been killed while 91,704 anti-illegal drug operations have been carried out since the President assumed office in July 2016.

The "Real Numbers" further showed that out of the total 2,467 drug related homicide incidents recorded, 1,752 are still under investigation, while 715 have been solved. 

But lawyer Jacqueline de Guia, spokesperson for the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), said the numbers could be higher because Malacañang's yearend report showed that 16,355 homicide cases, which may or may not be drug-related, are still under investigation. 

"Therefore, until and unless all of these cases have been investigated thoroughly and completely, we cannot conclusively say that there are only 4,000 deaths related to the campaign against drugs," she said in the forum "War on Drugs: Looking Behind the Numbers." 

Lawyer Jacqueline de Guia, spokesperson for the Commission on Human Rights, speaks at the "War on Drugs: Looking Beyond the Numbers" forum. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Also at the forum, Malou Mangahas, executive director of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), said the number of deaths under investigation may also speak of the police's supposed inadequacy in running after the culprits.

The term "homicides under investigation" was also not the original phrase the police used to refer to unsolved slays, the speakers noted. Police earlier called them "deaths under investigation," a term coined to replace "extrajudicial killings."

Inspector General Alfegar Triambulo, head of the Philippine National Police's (PNP) Internal Affairs Service, even once said there were no extrajudicial killings in the country because there is no death penalty, which is tantamount to a judicial killing.

#RealNumbers from the PDEA as of March 20, 2018. ABS-CBN News

#RealNumbers from the PDEA as of March 20, 2018. ABS-CBN News

#RealNumbers from the PDEA as of March 20, 2018. ABS-CBN News

#RealNumbers from the PDEA as of March 20, 2018. ABS-CBN News

#RealNumbers from the PDEA as of March 20, 2018. ABS-CBN News

#RealNumbers from the PDEA as of March 20, 2018. ABS-CBN News

#RealNumbers from the PDEA as of March 20, 2018. ABS-CBN News


Both De Guia and Mangahas also noted that in the first few months of the anti-illegal drug campaign, the PNP provided periodic updates on drug war deaths as if they were accomplishments. 

But after controversies hounded the drug war, such as the killing of South Korean businessman Jee Ick-joo, who was abducted then slain at the PNP headquarters, and teenager Kian delos Santos, who was killed in a questionable police operation, the CHR noticed that it has become difficult to obtain data from the police, de Guia said. 

"There was a realization that it was no longer helpful to brag of the numbers as accomplishments. And we saw that there was an effort to downplay the numbers. That was the point in time when there was confusion starting to begin among stakeholders," she said.

"Medyo naging PR (public relations) problem... We noted when that happened—after Jee Ick-joo and Kian delos Santos," Mangahas added, noting how hard it is of late to get accurate data on the drug war from authorities. 

PCIJ Executive Director Malou Mangahas during the "War on Drugs: Looking Beyond thee Numbers" forum. Rights. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

When the Supreme Court last December compelled the government to submit records on drug war deaths, Solicitor General Jose Calida refused, saying releasing such information may threaten national security. 

But just this month, the high court, as it looked into petitions questioning the constitutionality of the drug war, ordered the police to submit its records. The PNP said it would first seek legal advice from the Solicitor General.


The CHR is currently looking into 1,100 cases involving 1,300 victims of killings, including so-called vigilante slays and deaths in police operations, De Guia said. She said investigation of 90 percent of these cases was carried out on CHR's initiative because families of victims often refused to file cases out of fear.

"This may actually give credence to the fact that there is a climate of fear felt by the communities and validated by most of our investigations. Many are hesitant and fearful of filing charges," the human rights lawyer said.

Jose Arce Malonzo was among 17 people killed during an overnight sweep of anti-illegal drugs operatives in the CAMANAVA area in August 2017. Fernando Sepe, Jr., ABS-CBN News


Amid their continuing campaign against summary killings and abuses under the drug war, human rights groups were recently tagged in the drug trade itself, with the Palace claiming drug lords may be using them to destabilize government. 

Rose Trajano of the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates said the apparent acceptance of drug war killings as a reality has dealt a significant blow to the campaign to uphold human rights. 

"Napakataas po ng mga threats sa mga human rights teams. Dati tukoy natin, o alam ng karaniwan, na ang puwede lang manakit sa atin ay 'yung mga miyembro ng state agencies. Ngayon ang nakakalungkot kasi pati general public," she said. 

"Bakit despite the thousands of killings, parang namanhid na ba ang mga Filipino? Parang tinanggap na ba na okay na lang ang mga patayan? Paano mo ikakampanya 'yung karapatang pantao?" she added.

Rose Tajano of the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights during the "War on Drugs: Looking Beyond the Numbers" forum. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Trajano, who herself has been harassed and threatened on social media, said there is still reason to fight for human rights. She noted how the dissent prompted the government to change its approach in the drug war.

Recently, the PNP relaunched the anti-drug flagship campaign "Oplan Tokhang," its house-to-house "knock and plead" operations against drug suspects. The operation is now limited to daytime and operatives are not allowed to engage hostile suspects.

The PNP has said that unlike before, "Tokhang" has been bloodless for a month. But this does not mean the killings have actually stopped, said Trajano.

"Posibleng kaunti na lang ang nakikita nating mga bangkay sa kalsada. Pero alam natin na tuloy tuloy ang patayan. Dumadami po ang incidents ng enforced disappearances," she warned. 


Lorenza Delos Santos, mother of Kian delos Santos, the teenager killed during a police anti-drug operation in August 2017, weeps for her son. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

For these human rights defenders, more than all the numbers and figures, it's more important to look at the actual drug war victims and their lives. 

"One death is far too many. There is a danger of being enamored by the numbers as we look at varying statistics. There is a tendency to forget that these numbers portray real people, real human beings who died," said CHR's De Guia.

"They are Filipinos, mga kapwa nating Pilipino na namatay—mga magulang, mga nanay, mga tatay, mga anak, mga tiya at tiyo, mga kaibigan," De Guia added, sharing that in one of the cases they handled, the family lost a bread winner.

Another aspect often overlooked in the drug war is the number of minors killed. Since Duterte assumed presidency up to December 2017, the Children's Legal Rights and Development Center (CLRDC) has recorded 74 killings of minors in police anti-drug operations. 

Two of the biggest cases that made headlines last year were the killings of Kian delos Santos, 17, and Reynaldo "Kulot" de Guzman, 14. 

De Guzman's companion Carl Angelo Arnaiz, 19, was first to have been confirmed dead 10 days after the two went missing on August 17, 2017. 

Arnaiz was implicated in a robbery in Caloocan City, where cops allegedly fired at him in a "scripted" operation, according to a witness. De Guzman was found dead days later in Nueva Ecija. 

"With the war on drugs, children die together with due process. Hindi na lang sila basta naaakusahan lang. They are also targets. They become targets not just collateral damage," said Rowena Legaspi of the CLRDC.

Rowena Legaspi of the the Children's Legal Rights and Development Center during the "War on Drugs: Looking Beyond the Numbers" forum. Rights. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Legaspi said these killings were sometimes reported by authorities as a result of riots. But when they go to the area and document, the real stories come out.

She said there may be more killings of minors other than those reported in media. 

Minors slain in the drug war are not the only victims, but also their families and other children in the community traumatized by the incidents, Legaspi said. 

"Hindi na nila alam kung saan sila safe," she added.

-- with a report from Bianca Dava, ABS-CBN News