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Bato dela Rosa was fuming. When he fumes, he says a mouthful. He raged against Raoul Manuel and in the same breath jumps to the death toll numbers of the Duterte extrajudicial killings. 30,000, he said? How did they reach the 30,000, he asked?
But he knows.
Let’s start with the official police number adopted by national government. On March 30, 2022, just three months before he was to leave office marking almost six years since he launched his kill, kill, kill policy, Rodrigo Duterte directed the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency to supply human rights groups with a copy of the report of the government’s anti-narcotics campaign. He said he wanted drug war critics to study the report.
It was the tail end of his regime. Six years was sufficient time to sugarcoat the numbers. PDEA came up with a promo branding by naming it the “Real Numbers.” So what were the numbers? It said 24,303 villages all over the country have been cleared of illegal drugs since July 2016. A total of 1,008 drug dens and 18 clandestine shabu laboratories have been dismantled. About 327,039 have been arrested. For the total, 226,662 anti-drug operations have been conducted.
Finally it said 6,229 have died. PDEA said the numbers were up to date.
But how real were PDEA’s “Real Numbers?” Despite the 6,229 claim of Duterte, his own government agencies competed for the numbers. Under the hashtag #RealNumbersPH, the Duterte government said in June 2019 that there were 5,526 deaths of drug personalities. On that same month, former police chief Dela Rosa (by that time he was senator) said the number was 6,700. Pressed on the discrepancy, then presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said it was an “unintentional mistake.” They were stumbling upon each other. That means their numbers were not real after all. Someone was lying.
In truth drug war critics have long studied the glaring inconsistencies, something Duterte thought the national public was dumb not to mind, as it didn’t in muted Davao city. The discrepancy could have been uncovered as early as March 2017, only less than a year after Duterte had assumed office. The Rappler Research Report came out that month. It noted that the Philippine National Police had never used the term “deaths under investigation” before, only after Duterte assumed power. Who was the police chief at that time? It was Bato dela Rosa.
On August 18, 2016, Dela Rosa used the term “deaths under investigation” for the first time in a senate hearing. He said these deaths took place outside legitimate police operations. He defined DUIs as “the dead who were just found floating along canals, the dead who were dumped along roads with their hands tied and their faces, eyes, and mouths taped. Also those killed by riding-in-tandem, or those who were just shot.”
In September 2016 – remember this was just less than three months of the Duterte administration – police started using the term DUI to police beat reporters. Police said these deaths were attributed to robbery, theft, or personal grudges, yet did not give out a breakdown. If they were still investigating, how did they come up with the motives?
In December 2016, Dela Rosa gave out a new storyline, that “some of the deaths were caused by guns-for-hire taking advantage of the anti-illegal drug campaign.” That was a new angle.
In March 2017, PNP changed its terminology and now referred to DUIs as “homicide cases under investigation (HCUI)” because “the motives have yet to be determined.”
The findings by other independent bodies were strikingly similar. In December 2018, Chito Gascon, the chair of the Commission on Human Rights, said the death toll could be as high as 27,000 (that is why Duterte hated Gascon so much). The CHR was not into guesswork. It investigated police records albeit largely with difficulty because by then police withheld records.
CHR also suspected the root of the discrepancy – homicide cases under investigation or HCUIs. On that same month, police pegged the numbers of HCUIs at 23,327. It further segregated that number to three: 2,649 were drug related but happened outside police raids, 10,594 were non-drug cases, and 10,084 were not linked to any motive.
But notice how the police explained it. The police spokesperson Benigno Durana Jr. said: the killings were attributed to an internal war between drug syndicates. Police said these were cases of double-cross, estafa, non-remittance, non-payment of debt, rivalry. Yet it also said that the Philippine National Police had yet to validate claims that police were behind the summary executions. In other words, no policemen were involved, even in the drug-related cases.
If we go by the police logic and mathematics, one is sure to be confused.
Gascon and the CHR were on the right track. If you add the official number to the number of homicide cases under investigation (2018 data), you will reach something like 27,000 deaths.
In August 2019, Karen Gomez of the CHR disclosed to the BBC that regional police stations are blocking or delaying the release of information in the public interest: “This is something quite different about how we used to investigate killings in the past. This time there is little or no cooperation when it comes to sharing documentation.”
Police was systematically blocking transparency and access to public data. No one but no one can manipulate the police to commit such illegal act. No one except Rodrigo Duterte.
Sooner or later a lie that stands on shifting sands will give way. True enough, in 2017, the Duterte administration released its year-end key accomplishment report. It of course covered all the reports across all cabinet departments. There on page 22, under the “President’s 2017 Key Accomplishments,” was the mathematical solution.
Under “Fighting Illegal Drugs,” there were “3,967 drug personalities who died in anti-drug operations from July 1, 2016 to November 27, 2017.”
There were “16,355 Homicide Cases Under Investigation” from the same period.
Add them up and the sum is 20,322. That was as of December 2017 only. Gascon’s 27,000 in December 2018 was valid. By the end of Duterte’s term on June 30, 2022, even 30,000 would be a frail increment. It could be more than 30,000.
The conclusion: the Duterte administration faked the numbers. It made the police use the technique of under reporting. It also employed the technique of shifting terminologies to confuse, from deaths under investigation to homicides under investigation.
Duterte’s method was predictable. As he did in Davao City, Duterte made the police hire vigilante assassins to kill for a price. Presto, the police did not do it. Some contract killers confessed. One was a hit woman. She told the BBC how she got involved in contract killing after a corrupt police officer — one who was also dealing with drugs — started commissioning her husband to gun down debtors.
Yet payments were done right inside the police national headquarters in Camp Crame. A Senior Police Officer 1 confessed to Amnesty International: “We always get paid by the encounter. The amount ranges from P8,000 to P15,000. That amount is per head. So if the operation is against four people, that is P32,000. We are paid in cash, secretly by headquarters. There’s no incentive for arresting. We’re not paid anything.” And that was 2017 yet.
We became a rogue state under Rodrigo Duterte where, as the Amnesty report avers, police were made to break the laws they were supposed to uphold while they profited from money earned by taxpayers. It is time to hold him, Bato dela Rosa, and all their co-executioners who participated in the evil operation to the International Criminal Court. It is only but right and just. – Rappler.com
Antonio J. Montalván II is a social anthropologist who advocates that keeping quiet when things go wrong is the mentality of a slave, not a good citizen.