See More on Facebook

Analysis, Opinion

How many deaths will it take?

An editorial in the Daily Inquirer asks hard questions of Duterte’s drug war.


Written by

Updated: June 26, 2018

This is the fundamental question of our time. Exactly how many people have been killed in the Duterte administration’s signature antidrugs campaign?

The police have been less than forthcoming. They tried the old redefinition trick, creating different categories. They gave conflicting numbers. They even raised what the Supreme Court called a “ridiculous” argument that submitting police documentation on the killings to the Court, in a pending legal case, would compromise national security.

After the Court warned them, through the Office of the Solicitor General, that “the OSG’s continued refusal… will lead this Court to presume that these information and documents, because they are willfully suppressed, will be adverse to the OSG’s case,” the PNP finally began submitting the information, but only in parts.

The result is a climate of impunity based in part on confusion: Most Filipinos know that thousands have been killed in the Duterte administration’s antidrugs campaign, but both the details on the deaths and the patterns behind the killings have been largely, and even deliberately, left obscured.

Today’s forum at Ateneo de Manila on “emerging evidence and data” — emerging, that is, from the government’s antidrugs campaign — promises to bring much-needed clarity to a murky situation.

The forum will showcase the first findings of an unprecedented research project by a consortium of universities that include Ateneo de Manila, De La Salle University, the University of the Philippines and the Columbia Journalism School (through its Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism).

It will feature scholarly studies done on community-based drug rehabilitation and on the role of local governments. But its highlight would likely be the public presentation of what its researchers believe to be the most comprehensive database on drug-related killings since the 2016 elections.

By comprehensive, the scholars do not mean the most number of killings or the most recent set of data; rather, they mean the most complete documentation of the killings: information about the victims (a vast majority of whom are named), about the incidents, about the types of killing.

The database is based substantially on the “kill lists” compiled, edited and produced by news organizations like the Inquirer, ABS-CBN and GMA.

But the researchers looked for other sources, cross-checked the available information, encoded all the data, and analyzed the result. (We understand that today’s public presentation is only the first; more presentations will be scheduled as the database is updated.)

Much of the data, even those included in the lists maintained by the news organizations, are based on police reports, with all their attendant limitations. And all of the data the scholars used were publicly available.

Much of the reporting on the forum will, in all likelihood, focus on the patterns that the consortium’s research team has discovered, after integrating and processing the data from various sources.

The first patterns they discerned are truly disconcerting. (The scholars provided the Inquirer an early look at the presentation, because we shared our dataset. But the material is embargoed until 10 a.m. today.)

While we should rightly be provoked by the troubling patterns in the administration’s antidrugs campaign, however, we should also direct our attention to other questions the landmark research project raises. Here are two:

First, what does almost complete dependence on police sources at the precinct level mean for the documentation of the killings?

It is true that very few news organizations have the resources necessary to mount independent investigations of every drug-related killing, but as long as the paperwork at the blotter level is reliable, news organizations can still depend on them.

What happens if the killings have reached such a scale that police precincts are instructed to fudge the details, to deliberately downplay the numbers?

Second, the picture that the consortium’s research project describes is based almost exclusively on media coverage.

What happens in those areas (many outside the National Capital Region) where lack of resources prevents local news organizations from covering or reporting drug-related killings?

The researchers are upfront about this serious limitation of the database; but it also means that the complete picture of drug-related killings must be worse than reported.

“How many deaths will it take before he knows that too many people have died?”

The answer is no longer blowing in the wind; it has been codified into hard data.

Read more



Enjoyed this story? Share it.


Philippine Daily Inquirer
About the Author: The Philippine Daily Inquirer is one the country’s most credible and influential newspapers with over 500 awards and citations.

Eastern Briefings

All you need to know about Asia


Our Eastern Briefings Newsletter presents curated stories from 22 Asian newspapers from South, Southeast and Northeast Asia.

Sign up and stay updated with the latest news.



By providing us with your email address, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.

View Today's Newsletter Here

Analysis, Opinion

Nepal needs development, but not by coercion

Reimagining Nepal and developing it warrants a broad outlook that listens to its people and shows regard for their displeasure. The country’s obsession with bulldozers and excavators as a symbol of development reached an eerie new high yesterday as a viral video sent a chill down people’s spines. In the name of building a road in Dashrath Chand Municipality in Baitadi (roads are synonymous with development in Nepal), an excavator was seen gouging into the land even as locals protested and pelted it with stones. Read: Excavator operator and three others detained for investigation in Baitadi As the excavator operator pressed forward using brute force in a disoriented manner, the massive machine’s toothed bucket knocked down a woman to the


By The Kathmandu Post
October 23, 2019

Analysis, Opinion

President Joko Widodo sworn in for second term

Joko exhorts Indonesians to develop ‘new ways and values’. A few hours before he was sworn in for a second and final term in office on Sunday (Oct 20), Indonesian President Joko Widodo uploaded a new profile picture on Facebook with the caption “Let’s work together towards progress for Indonesia”. The post has since garnered more than 224,000 likes and over 19,000 comments from well-wishers congratulating him on his re-election and cheering him on to steer the country to success. At around 4pm Jakarta time (5pm Singapore time), millions of Indonesians tuned in to a live television broadcast as Mr Joko, more popularly known as Jokowi, recited his oath of office before lawmakers and regional senators that make up the People’s Consultative Assembly, or MPR, at the Parliament building. The new Vice-President, cleric Ma’ruf Amin, who replaced outgoing Mr Jusuf Kalla, also took h


By The Straits Times
October 21, 2019

Analysis, Opinion

S. Korean, ASEAN officials look ahead to special summit and stronger regional ties

Korea has increasingly look to Southeast Asia as an export destination and regional partners. Ahead of the highly anticipated summit in Busan next month between the leaders of South Korea and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, top officials from participating countries gathered in the southern port city Wednesday and voiced high expectations for the future of the relationship between South Korea and the ASEAN nations. South Korean Ambassador to ASEAN Lim Sung-nam, ASEAN-Korea Center Secretary-General Lee Hyuk, Busan Mayor Oh Keo-don and Myanmar Ambassador to South Korea U Thant Sin said they looked forward to the upcoming summit, calling it a steppingstone to stronger South Korea-ASEAN ties and to economic prosperity and peace on the Korean Peninsula. “In the past 30 years, the relationship between South Korea and ASEAN has grown to an astonishing degree. Trade volume rose 20-fold and human e


By The Korea Herald
October 18, 2019

Analysis, Opinion

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam unveils measures to ease housing crunch

Lam was forced to deliver speech via video after protests. Embattled Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam announced measures aimed at easing a housing shortage on Wednesday (Oct 16) as she battles to restore confidence in her administration and address widespread discontent after four months of mostly violent anti-government protests. Mrs Lam was forced to deliver her speech via video after her annual policy address in the Legislative Council was aborted when some lawmakers repeatedly jeered and shouted at her as she began speaking. After aborting her speech in the chamber tw


By The Straits Times
October 17, 2019

Analysis, Opinion

Xi, Modi chart course ahead for new era

Informal meeting in India designed to build mutual trust between neighbors.  China and India can create an even closer partnership in the new era, as the countries’ leaders have reset relations through an informal meeting over the weekend in the coastal city of Chennai in southern India, officials and experts said. President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had in-depth discussions on bilateral, regional and international issues of “overall, long-term and strategic” importance in their second informal meeting, Vice-Foreign Minister Luo Zhaohui told reporters after the meeting. Xi called for building up strategic mutual trust between the two neighboring countries and defusing their differences through communication. He said the only correct choice is for the “Chinese dragon” and “Indian elephant” to dance together in ways that


By China Daily
October 15, 2019

Analysis, Opinion

Typhoon Hagibis leaves 26 dead, 19 missing in Japan

The military has been mobilized to provide humanitarian relief. Powerful Typhoon No. 19 barreled north through the Kanto region, leaving behind record-setting rainfall in some areas and widespread damage from flooding, most notably from the overflowing of the Chikuma River in Nagano Prefecture on Saturday evening. Embankments along 21 rivers were breached and about 140 rivers flooded nationwide as of 6 p.m. Sunday. The typhoon, which made landfall on the Izu Peninsula in Shizuoka Prefecture at about 7 p.m. Saturday, led to evacuation orders and advisories being issued to more than 10 million people, mainly in the Tokyo metropolitan area. The Japan Meteorological Agency held an emergency press conference Saturday, urging citizens to “take action to protect their lives.” The agency said that in the 48-hour span up to 3 p.m. on Sunday, record rainfa


By The Japan News
October 14, 2019