(UPDATED) The death toll in the government's war on drugs is exaggerated by fake news and perpetuated in local and foreign media, Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano said in a presentation to the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva, Switzerland.
Discussing the country's anti-illegal drugs campaign to the HRC, Cayetano, who co-leads the 16-member Philippine delegation for the periodic human rights review in Geneva, said it was unfortunate that fake news was “gobbled up” by President Duterte’s political foes, local and foreign media.
“[Fake news] created a domino effect of the foreign media, picking up from news reports in the Philippines, which also alerted human rights groups, which are also getting the wrong information,” said Cayetano, among the fiercest defenders of President Duterte's anti-drug war.
Cayetano explained there were 9,432 total of homicide cases under the Duterte administration from July 1, 2016 to March 31, 2017, and there were 2,692 deaths from presumed legitimate law enforcement drug operations. He claimed that in the past administration, the number of killings was a low of 11,000 and a high of 16,000 cases yearly.
“But numbers were presented in a way which basically appeared that [Duterte] was acting with impunity,” said the lawmaker, who has several times criticized the media for its reporting on deaths in the drug war.
“The drug lords were operating with impunity and not the government. The government tried to strengthen the rule of law. The problem is we were slowly turning into a narco-state, wherein the drug pushers were already infiltrating the political system,” he said.
A New York Times editorial piece placed the war on drugs' death toll at 9,400, while Reuters pegged the figure at 9,000.
Cayetano, the President's defeated running mate in the May 2016 elections, did not deny that there were extrajudicial killings in the Philippines, but said they were not state-sponsored.
“There are human rights violations and extrajudicial killings, but they are not state-sponsored and we are trying our best to address [them],” he said.
He said government was treating the drug users as victims and has initiated “massive” efforts to improve drug rehabilitation centers in the country.
Cayetano made the presentation in Geneva just as Agnes Callamard, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, visited the country and criticized Duterte's anti-drug approach anew.