Study backs claims that Duterte’s anti-drug campaign is ‘war on the poor,’ nonprofit says

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
Study backs claims that Duterteâs anti-drug campaign is âwar on the poor,â nonprofit says
File photo shows people lighting candles to protest drug war killings.
The STAR / Miguel de Guzman, File

MANILA, Philippines — There is truth to the notion that the Duterte administration's so-called 'war on drugs' is anti-poor, the results of a demographic analysis conducted by a non-government organization into the summary executions linked to the anti-drug campaign suggest.

In a study entitled "Beyond the Numbers", The Initiatives for Dialogue and Empowerment through Alternative Legal Services, Inc., or IDEALS compiled a dataset of some 500 cases of human rights violations dating back to late 2016 until February 2020, largely from Metro Manila, and some from Bulacan, Laguna, Cavite, and Cebu.

The nonprofit in its research found that all cases involved victims who were blue-collared workers, with a majority of them working as construction workers or carpenters, while a sizable portion of the victims also belonged to the informal sector as minimum-wage earners in urban poor communities. 

Beyond the Numbers also noted that 99% of the victims never finished tertiary education. Only three were able to graduate from college, while the others were only able to finish high school, elementary, or pre-school—proof, they said, that the war on drugs was a "war on the poor."

As of this post, official police figures have acknowledged just 8,000 "drug personalities" who were slain in official police operations, though rights groups say the actual death toll may be as high as 30,000 since Duterte's "war" began in 2016

Human beings before drug users

Both local and international organizations have said that the nightly killings only increased amid the coronavirus-induced lockdowns, a claim corroborated by the government's own data.

READ: 'Drug war' deaths rise amid coronavirus pandemic — int'l rights monitor

“Through the documentation of these cases, the atrocities committed and condoned by this administration shall not be forgotten,” said Raphael Carlo Brolagda, a lawyer who serves as project coordinator and one of the researchers for the study.

"Regardless of whether the victims were indeed linked to illegal drugs or not, they are human beings with rights enshrined in the constitution," he also said. 

According to groups from the United Nations to local rights monitors, cops under the Duterte administration have been handed "near-impunity" by the president's pronouncements and are only further emboldened to carry out the summary executions linked to the administration's flagship campaign against illegal narcotics. 

An earlier UN report has also suggested that the planting of evidence by police officers was a common practice. The European Parliament, for its part, has also denounced what it said was the "rapid" deterioration of human rights and press freedom in the Philippines, citing the thousands of extrajudicial killings and human rights violations related to the drug war.

READ: 'Grave violations': Bachelet presents report on Philippines to UN rights council

Group questions lack of investigations

Official police reports on anti-drug operations routinely claim that only suspects who fought back were killed—a narrative Beyond the Numbers’ initial findings also put into question.

According to IDEALS, 26.7% of the victims were never linked to drugs, according to victims’ next of kin.

"Witnesses or families also claimed that 129 of the cases involved warrantless arrests, 66 Tokhang, and only 40 legitimate buy-bust operations compared to state agents’ alleged 128," the group's statement read. "Official records and testimonies of families and/or witnesses further showed that 55% of the incidents involved the Philippine National Police, while 32% were unidentified assailants."

Researchers also recorded 252 killings and 229 arbitrary detentions to go with other instances of torture and enforced disappearances. According to the group, around 45% of the cases included other violations such as planting evidence, taking of property, forceful ingestion of substance, extortion, and sexual violence.

READ: After Human Rights Day arrests, HRW says there is ‘damning history’ of cops planting evidence

Especially telling, the group said in its report, was the lack of investigation being conducted on the cases. According to the NGO's findings, only 32% cases with an initial investigation by the state, 98% had no further action. Furthermore, 58.5% of the cases had no information given to victims or families regarding whether or not any investigation is being implemented.

“The discrepancy between the claims of the victims’ family and witnesses to the incident and those of the state agents was expected,” the researchers wrote in conclusion.

“Though the truth of what actually happened is yet to be determined, the fact remains that the claims of the government are being contested by those who have lost their loved ones despite the fear of experiencing brutality themselves.”

Despite well-documented evidence, police leadership has also completely invalidated the existence of extra-judicial killings, claiming the deaths are but a narrative peddled by the administration's political opposition.

'Women most affected indirectly'

IDEALS’ demographic analysis used a statistical and methodological framework based on the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner’s Statistical Classification Framework.

RELATED: 'Negligent in the extreme': HRW says Philippines fails to assist children affected by 'drug war'

Though the study found that 86.2% of the victims were male, it was careful to mention that, “If we are to consider the effects of the campaign against illegal drugs on indirect victims, women are the ones most affected by the post-incident of these HRVs.”

"About 61% or 168 of the total victims were partnered through marriage or common-law relationships. Meanwhile, five were widowed. 83.3% or 129 of the victims have at least one minor dependent on them. The difficulty of losing a source of income compounds the already harsh reality of these families who are left behind,” the group said.

Asked about Investigate PH, an international probe looking into the human rights situation in the Philippines, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said in Filipino at a press briefing Thursday: "Our position is consistent: our legal systems are working."






As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: October 20, 2021 - 10:22am

Reuters wins Pulitzers, the most prestigious awards in American journalism, in international reporting for its story on the methods of police killing squads in President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs and for feature photography documenting the Rohingya refugee crisis in Myanmar and Bangladesh.

In covering the deadly drug war in the Philippines, Reuters reporters Clare Baldwin, Andrew R.C. Marshall and Manuel Mogato "demonstrated how police in the president’s 'drug war' have killed with impunity and consistently been shielded from prosecution," Reuters Editor-in-Chief Stephen J. Adler says.

October 20, 2021 - 10:22am

Th Department of Justice releases information on the 52 drug war cases it reviews based on police records.

Since 2016, no criminal complaint has been filed.

The DOJ notes that the cases are to undergo further investigation for possible filing of criminal charges against erring police officers.

February 28, 2021 - 1:29pm

The bloody shootout between the police and Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency in Quezon City last Wednesday should speed up implementation of better monitoring of law enforcement operations, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto says.

Recto says law enforcers should have bodycams as well as dashboard cams in their vehicles.

“It is again a bloody reminder of a missing but vital equipment in policing—video recording devices, especially during operations,” Recto says.

Recto says in a release that he sponsored with then Sen. JV Ejercito a P5.4-billion allocation in the 2017 national budget for new police equipment, including body cameras, "but it took four years and five PNP chiefs to buy some 2,600 pieces."

February 25, 2021 - 4:42pm

Heads of Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency and Philippine National Police vow thorough probe into the shootout along Commonweatlh Avenue on Wednesday night.

They say they will defer to the findings of the joint Board of Inquiry formed to investigate the incident, where three law enforcement personnel were killed.

PDEA Director General Wilkins Villanueva says he cannot yet give operational details, saying those are still subject to investigation.

Police Gen. Debold Sinas says findings will be made public as soon as these are available.

February 25, 2021 - 1:04pm

Sen. Risa Hontiveros says she will call for a Senate investigation into the shootoout between Quezon City police officers and Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency personnel in an anti-drug operation.

"We need to look into this further. It is very alarming that this is not the first time that such a ‘misencounter’ has happened. The National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) did admit that this has happened numerous times. These ‘misencounters’ should be rare, not common," Hontiveros says.

According to initial reports, the police conducted a buy-bust operation but did not know they were transacting with PDEA personnel.

"How could this have happened, at all, in the first place? Why did the shootout take place for as long as an hour? Hindi ba pwedeng magkalinawan, even within the first few minutes, that a misencounter breaks out?" Hontiveros adds.

February 24, 2021 - 9:12pm

Ever Commonwealth mall management confirms that there was a shootout outside the mall on Wednesday.

"We have secured all access to the mall so all shoppers are safe inside," it says.

"Our priority right now is to ensure the safety of the employees and public."

It adds management is coordinating with the Philippine National Police on the situation.

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