Revised drug war death toll is thousand less than previous figure

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Revised drug war death toll is thousand less than previous figure
This photo taken on June 27, 2019, shows policemen at the crime scene where the body of a barangay (inner city neighborhood) health worker and former drug surrenderee Michael Oescayno, lies on the ground after unidentified gunmen.
AFP / Noel Celis

MANILA, Philippines (Update 2, 6:57 p.m.) — The latest count on the number of people killed in President Rodrigo Duterte’s widely condemned war on drugs reached just a little over 5,500—lower than the previous government figure by a thousand.

Data from the Real Numbers PH released Thursday showed the number of drug personalities killed in 134,583 police anti-drug operations stood at 5,526 as of June 30.

The count was fewer by 1,074 from the figure released by the Philippine National Police last month. According to the police, at least 6,600 drug personalities were slain in anti-narcotics operations from July 1, 2016 to May 31, 2019.

The latest report also showed that 193,086 drug personalities were arrested in the last three years. But according to the PNP data released last month, 240,565 were nabbed.

The fresh data was presented just a week after the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution calling for a comprehensive report on the human rights situation in the country, including alleged killings under the government’s anti-drug campaign.


In a briefing Thursday, government officials insisted the Real Numbers—the one with lower figure—is the official and validated data.

PNP deputy spokesperson Lt. Col. Kimberly Molitas and Presidential Communications Assistant Secretary Marie Rafael-Banaag said the discrepancy in government figures is due to the verification done by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency before updating the Real Numbers platform.

“Anything that comes from the PNP, National Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Customs, all the data from them in so far as enforcement is concerned and in so far as data from anti-illegal drugs campaign is concerned goes to the PDEA for validation,” Banaag said.

Molitas explained the PNP figure is real time while it takes time for PDEA to determine if the deaths were indeed related to illegal drugs.

“Whatever the discrepancy is, I think it’s not very easy to review the folders one by one and confirm that it is an anti-drug operation. On our part, it is. But PDEA is the mandated authority to validate our operations,” Molitas said.

Both figures, however, are significantly lower than the estimates by human rights watchdogs of as many as 27,000 killed. These estimates were based on a 2017 “accomplishment” report of that included more than 16,000 “homicide cases under investigations” or the killings under probe since the start of the Duterte administration.

The count of drug-related homicides has since been removed from succeeding reports.

The government, however, has repeatedly said that law enforcement operations are done according to due process.

Accountability vs statistics

For Carlos Conde, Philippine researcher for New York-based Human Rights, the more important issue here is accountability, not the government’s inconsistent figures.

“At this point in the brutal ‘drug war,’ accountability is more important than the statistics, given how the government tries to manipulate [statistics through] #RealNumbersPH,” Conde tweeted Thursday. 

Last month, UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said that even the official figure of drug war deaths would be “a matter of serious concern for any country.”

Conde said that while monitoring the number of slain drug personalities is crucial, it is even more important to keep track of how many of the perpetrators have been punished.

“Also, there is no longer any dispute as to how catastrophic the ‘drug war’ is. The modus operandi of the government is well-established, its violations of the law and due process clearly documented,” Conde said.

He added: “So whether it’s 10 or 10,000, it’s clear that government [forces] need to be held accountable.”

In November last year, three Caloocan policemen were sentenced to decades in prison after they were found guilty for the murder of 17-year-old Kian delos Santos—the first conviction of officers carrying out Duterte’s drug war.

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