There are numbers, and there are numbers, and President Duterte employs them all to effect.
The number he bruits about most often, in fact at every opportunity, is 3 million.
It is central to his trick, by which he would have everybody believe these three things:
- There are that many Filipinos in illegal drugs – suppliers, dealers, users;
- From that number alone, it may be assumed that drugs are the mother of all Philippine scourges;
- No appreciable measure of national progress can be gained until those 3 million are eliminated. And Duterte says he will be “happy to slaughter” them.
Why then would the police protest any higher counts than theirs of deaths from the war on drugs – 7,000-plus as of last month? A further puzzle is that the police are particular about which kills are theirs and which the vigilantes’, when they are both supposed to be working for the same President who wants all 3 million killed. It would be even more puzzling – and funny – if their reason is accuracy and proper credit.
Numbers are a mere game with Duterte. Even Hitler lost half of the 6 million Jews he exterminated and, along with that, a commensurate magnitude of his legitimate unparalleled notoriety. And for what?
Duterte cut Hitler’s historic number to match his own target number. Recently I caught Duterte on television adding new numbers to his trick: 77,000-plus incidents of rape, murder, and other types of crime (he likes emphasizing the first two types for their terror impact) and 29 policemen killed; he does not give details, like who, what, where, when, why, and how, as we news people do as a matter of course; thus we put ourselves to the test of credibility and open ourselves to being held to account in case of any misrepresentation. (Even crowd estimates we do by a credible mathematical formula: 2 persons per square meter times the total occupied area.)
Duterte, on the other hand, has only his Yellow-Pages type of directory. It’s his wanted-for-drugs list. He lugs it around but doesn’t show its content. It is more prop than evidence.
The original, truthful Yellow Pages contained, more or less, 300,000 entries of mere names, addresses, and telephone numbers in a seven-pound, 1,500-page volume. To accommodate Duterte’s suspects, listed just as sparely, 10 volumes weighing a total of 70lb – a big eight- or nine-year-old child – will be required. Still, all that great weight and mass will be mere prop, not evidence.
All about tricks
In fact Duterte’s numbers have been found either untrue or incredible, including those that portray his native Davao, the city he ruled as an authoritarian mayor for more than two decades, as drug-free and progressive (9.4% growth). But what does he care? He remains popular, only a trifle less (7% by a Pulse Asia poll in March).
The Duterte presidency is about tricks, a numbers game. If truth has no value to him, only illusions, what use do the media and other truth seekers and reporters have?
The temptation is to match him trick for trick, or, as the President’s spokesman Ernesto Abella suggested, trying, I suppose, to bait us, “Be more imaginative”.
We are in the business of truth seeking and telling, not tricking or imagining. But strategizing should be accommodated within the rigors of our trade. Next time the President cites a number, ask him where he got it or straighten him out outright. If he insists to be taken at his number, let’s remind our audiences it’s merely a claimed one, and return to it once verified either way.
It should also be fair to remind everyone that the President, having been too often caught winging or altogether faking numbers, could not be trusted with them. – Rappler.com
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