Aguirre hits 7,000 drug war death figure, but uses it anyway

Lian Buan

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Aguirre hits 7,000 drug war death figure, but uses it anyway

Lito Boras/

'Your honor, more or less, this is a correct figure,' says Aguirre of Rappler's number of deaths related to the drug war which he earlier criticized

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II seems to be confused with the figures of the official death tally listed under the mantle of the government’s war on drugs.

Is it 7,000 or is it 3,000?

Let’s go back. (READ: TIMELINE: The PNP’s use of the term ‘deaths under investigation’)

Rappler, along with other news outfits, presented a tally of 7,000 deaths as of April 2017 but clarified that the number is cumulative of all the deaths linked to the war on drugs. They are both deaths from legitimate police operations and deaths from vigilante-style or unexplained killings.

The Philippine National Police (PNP) insists this data is wrong, saying in May that as of their last reckoning, there were only 2,717 killed in police operations.

Online supporters of President Rodrigo Duterte criticized Rappler for the data and on May 2, government agencies were up in arms in a forum called “RealNumbersPH” to clarify the numbers.

PNP’s 2,717 death tally in May was similar to Rappler’s death tally from police operations. Rappler said that as of January 31, 2017, there were 2,555 drug suspects killed in police operations.

The difference is explained by the 162 additional cases recorded from March to April. This was after Duterte briefly suspended the campaign following the death of Korean businessman Jee Ick Joo.

Aguirre was among those who criticized Rappler.

In a June Rappler Talk interview, Aguirre said there were only 2,500 drug-related deaths.

“As of a few months ago while we were already talking about 9,000 killings, eh mga 2,500 lamang ang connected sa war on drugs, all others are being classified as victims of the war on drugs na hindi naman totoo eh. Especially Rappler, Inquirer and mainstream media, ganun ang palabas nila,” Aguirre said.

(Only 2,500 are connected to the war on drugs, all the others are being classified as victims of the war on drugs but it’s not true. Especially Rappler, Inquirer and mainstream media, that’s what they’re trying to show.)

During the recent budget hearings in both the Senate and House of Representatives, this number would increase. Aguirre said that there are now 3,050 deaths from police operations and 1,000 deaths from vigilante style killings.

‘I got it from Rappler’

On Thursday, August 31, during the resumption of the Department of Justice (DOJ) budget hearing, Senator Franklin Drilon clarified the number with Aguirre.

Aguirre passed it on to Undersecretary Reynante Orceo who said that from July 2016 to August 2017, there were only 2,187 deaths from “incidents with motives to be drug-related.”

Orceo was not able to elaborate, saying he’s only basing on PNP data. Rappler was able to obtain data from the PNP which says that of the 14,160 homicide cases they’re handling as of July 31, 2017, there are 2,163 that are drug related. According to the PNP data, there are also 9,142 cases whose motives are still being investigated. This explains Orceo’s numbers.

But Drilon was confused. Orceo is saying 2,187 when his boss Aguirre had previously said 7,000.

“During the hearing on August 24 in the committee hearing regarding the Kian delos Santos death, you mention that, and let me quote you ‘the deaths I presented sa US and Europe ay hindi lang ‘yung 3,050, hindi lang po plus ‘yung 1,000, ang prinisenta ko po doon is about 7,000 deaths because of legitimate police operations and andyan din ‘yung tumaas sabi ko, tumaas na sa 7,000? You answered hindi po, talagang mataas, mas mataas pa sa last hearing natin…” Drilon told Aguirre.

(..not only 3,050, not just plus 1,000. What I presented is about 7,000 deaths because of legitimate police operations, included there is the…and I asked, so it increased to 7,000? You answered no, it’s really high, higher than the last hearing.)

Ano ang sinasabi ng Secretary niyo na pitong libo? (What is this 7,000 your Secretary is saying)” Drilon asked.

Aguirre said his figure of 7,000 came from Rappler, and proceeded to read word-for-word this article.

Drilon asked Aguirre: “I’m a little uncomfortable that the Secretary of Justice will rely on the report of Rappler, a news agency, not his own. But nevertheless, I’ll just ask for confirmation, would the secretary confirm the accuracy, not to the last death, but more or less, is this a correct figure?”

“Your honor, more or less, this is a correct figure, because from the news item, it is–, appears to be quoted from the PNP figures,” Aguirre said.

EJK cases in prosecution

Drilon’s line of questioning on Thursday is aligned with his query of the number of drug war-related cases being prosecuted by the DOJ. This is in light of an accusation by detained Senator Leila de Lima that Aguirre told his prosecutors not to entertain any complaint against law enforcement officials carrying out the war on drugs.

Rappler has been asking for data of all cases being handled by prosecutors.

In an interview after the hearing on Thursday, Aguirre said that according to data collected from all city and provincial prosecutors nationwide, there are 71 cases being handled by the DOJ. We are still asking for a breakdown of this data.

Aguirre said this is separate from the 50 cases handled by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) in compliance with his order to investigate drug-war related EJKs or extrajudicial killings.

“The NBI only investigated 50 because those are the complaints that reached the NBI. Others may have reached PNP,” Aguirre said.

NBI Director Dante Gierran said that of the 50 cases, 7 were recommended for prosecution, 4 were temporarily closed while the other 39 are ongoing.

Rappler is also collating more data to update our tally on the total number of deaths in the war on drugs. – With Michael Bueza/


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Lian Buan

Lian Buan is a senior investigative reporter, and minder of Rappler's justice, human rights and crime cluster.