April 8, 2017

Duterte's War on Narcopolitics and Rappler's Bad Math


When Duterte said Filipinos aren’t inherently good in math, I think he was referring to Rappler's employees.

In September 2016, Rappler published Michael Bueza’s “IN NUMBERS: The Philippines' 'war on drugs’”, which supposedly serves as a tally of the deaths resulting from President Rody Duterte’s War on Drugs. Bueza has updated the list 75 times since September 2016, with the latest version (the 75th update) dated 07 April 2017.

On the 75th update, Bueza, citing “revised PNP data”, came up with a total of 7,080 casualties by combining 2,555; 3,603; and 922, which are the deaths from police operations, DUIs, and concluded investigations, respectively.

Rappler’s tally has so far been used by various international news agencies as the basis for the death toll of Duterte’s War on Drugs. It has been quoted by major organizations such as the [Financial Times, [Newsweek, the [Guardian, and even the [New York Times, and it has also been used as the basis for a [Human Rights Watch] report and a [European Parliament] resolution.

And most importantly, Vice-president Leni Robredo herself used this figure in a video address shown in a UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs side event, the same video that was featured on [Time] Magazine last month.

Yes, that’s how oft-cited Rappler’s article is, so let’s ask a simple question that few mainstream journalists chronically fail to ask:
Is 7080 deaths an accurate body count?

Rappler vs Tiglao

In his 20 March 2017 column, Ambassador Rigoberto Tiglao accused Rappler of having “misled… the World”, as he wrote:
The Rappler report is so patently wrong, I can only attribute it not to stupidity but to malice. It included 4,525 ‘deaths under investigation or investigation concluded’ as killings related to the anti-drug war – which they aren’t!”
Bueza’s simple and straightforward methodology uses the following formula:
T = P + D + C
where, T = total number of people killed in War on Drugs; P = suspected drug personalities killed in police operations; D = victims in cases of deaths under investigation (DUI); and C = victims in cases where investigation has concluded
And herein lies the problem: it appears to be a classic case not only of bad Math, but also of bad terminology.

Rappler’s and Bueza’s Collective Confusion

The Rappler article did not provide any precise definition of any of the equation’s variables, and that’s something that me, who is darned good in High School Math, find problematic.

Moreover, I do not understand how Rappler categorized all DUIs as drug-related. How would they know they’re all drug-related if an investigation is still ongoing in the first place?

And lastly, everyone suddenly use Bueza’s 7000 figure to describe the number of extrajudicial killings and summary executions, despite the fact that at least some of those killings must have been conducted in legitimate police operations.
This is just messed up! How many were lawfully killed during police operations? Did the PNP say all DUIs are drug-related? How many DUIs have been confirmed as drug-related? How many drug-related deaths are there in total?

Let me quote something that’s often attributed to genius physicist Albert Einstein[QI]:
Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.
In Rappler’s case, Bueza's formula is not only problematic, but also oversimplified.

The rest of mainstream media had almost a year to clear things up, but they appear to enjoy a willful ignorance on the matter. Some influential organizations have already called for economic sanctions against the Philippines, yet local mainstream media insists on displaying an appalling level of negligence reminiscent of the Malacañang Press Corps’ legendary indolence.

So why don’t I, ThinkingPinoy, sort it out myself? 

Ironing out the definitions

But first, let’s be clear about the definition of “extrajudicial killings and summary executions”

Senator Alan Peter Cayetano was right when he cited former President Benigno Aquino III’s Administrative Order 35 to show the problematic definition of “extra-judicial killings“ [Star].

There is no standard international definition of the term “extrajudicial killings”. Quoting Ballesteros of the [Manila Times], even “UN bodies have interchangeably used the terms ‘extrajudicial execution,’ ‘summary execution’ and ‘arbitrary execution’ to refer to intentional murders of crime suspects by law enforcers.”
Hence, to ensure that you and I are on the same page, let’s adopt the most common definition adopted the most vocal critics of the Duterte Administration – the Liberal Party-led Political Opposition. That is, for the purpose of this article, our preliminary definition shall be:
An extrajudicial killing is the drug-related killing of a person by governmental authorities without the sanction of any judicial proceeding or legal process.
This is, a working definition, but I feel that it’s incomplete, as it precludes unknown vigilante groups that the opposition alleges to have committed drug-related killings with the State’s imprimatur. Thus, we shall revise the definition into:
An "extrajudicial killing or summary execution" shall be defined as the drug-related killing of a person by governmental authorities without the sanction of any judicial proceeding or legal process, or by civilians with the explicit approval of the State.
“Drug-related killings” shall be defined as homicides where the suspect, the victim, or the suspect’s motive has a history of, or is connected to, illegal drugs.
This shall be the the definition used for the rest of this article.

Let’s get the numbers, shall we?

PNP speaks

Instead of speculating, I decided to go to Camp Crame and ask the Public Information Office of the Philippine National Police (PNP-PIO) about it. A couple of days ago, I visited PNP-PIO and interviewed Police S/Supt. Dionardo “Caloy” Carlos, the PNP‘s official spokesperson.


Asked to confirm Rappler’s 7,080 drug war body count, Carlos said:
The media reports over 7,000 extrajudicial killings and/or summary executions, that’s their description, but we only have 6,011 homicide cases recorded from 01 July 2016 to 24 March 2017. These (homicide cases are) formerly (called) DUIs, or deaths under investigation.
Carlos essentially meant that 7,000 EJKs and summary executions is impossible because there are only 6,011 documented homicides under investigation to begin with. That is, the total number of EJKs and summary executions, if any, should be less than 6,011.To further elucidate his point, Carlos said
So, all killings that occurred while we're implementing the campaign vs drugs are classified as Deaths Under Investigation. but we don't necessarily say they're all drug-related, that's why they're under investigation.
Asked if drug-related deaths are just a subset of DUIs, Carlos said:
Yes. Now, we are determining which ones are really connected to the anti-drug campaign and which ones are regular crimes.
Asked on how many of the DUIs have been confirmed as drug-related, Carlos said:
Among these 6,011 homicides, we have determined that there are only 1,398 cases that are drug-related, so it’s automatically wrong to say that there have been over 7,000 EJKs or summary executions that they attribute to the campaign versus illegal drugs… There are names of victims, suspects, places, and not just numerical data.
Carlos said there are 1,398 confirmed drug-related homicides, but these killings have yet to be proven to be state-sanctioned.

To clarify the 1,398 confirmed drug-related homicides, Carlos said:
These are not necessarily deaths resulting from EJKs or summary executions. There are many possible motives. And among these 6,011 homicide cases, we so far determined that only 1,398 are drug-related.”
In reference to Rappler’s tally, Carlos said:
It’s wrong to say that all 6,011 are EJKs or summary killings (executions) because the circumstances surrounding each of the 6,011 deaths differ. The motives vary.”
I told Carlos that if there are 1,398 confirmed drug-related homicides among the 6,011 DUIs, that leaves us 4,613 DUIs that are still unaccounted for, to which he replied:
Aside from the 1398 (confirmed drug-related deaths), we also have 828 resolved cases but the motives are different, not connected to illegal drugs... (The motives are) fights over parcels of land, personal grudges, atrocities of armed leftists, love triangles, (etc.) ... We still have (around) 3700 cases that are still under investigation.
Subtracting 1,398 drug-related and 828 non-drug-related deaths from the 6,011 DUIs yields 3,785 DUIs with pending investigations.

Over 7,000 killed in Drug War?

I compiled the numbers Carlos provided and they’re shown in the following table:


In line with our definition of EJKs and summary executions, the oft-repeated statement “over 7,000 EJKs and summary executions in Duterte’s Drug War”, which would have included all 6,011 DUIs per Bueza’s formula, is incorrect.
First, the 828 deaths that are not related to drugs are obviously not part of the War on Drugs.

Second, the 1398 drug-related deaths may be EJKs or summary executions, but it is still unclear if the killings were state-sanctioned.
Third, the remaining 3,785 DUIs are still being investigated upon, so it is still unknown if they’re related to drugs or not.
Thus, how can we say that these 6,011 are EJKs or summary executions when the essential elements of such a crime have yet to be proven?

In short, Rappler’s article that features Bueza’s calculations provide, at best, an upper limit of potential EJKs and summary executions, and not the actual number of EJKs and summary executions.

But that makes Rappler’s oft-cited article meaningless, which is best explained through an analogy:
I am technically correct when I say, “I have, at most, a million fingers” is technically correct because I have ten fingers and ten is less than one million. But is that statement meaningful? Does it help others get a better idea of how many fingers I have?
Rappler did the same thing. Rappler basically showed that there are, at most, 7,080 extrajudicial killings and summary executions, even if the actual number of proven extrajudicial killings, so far is a lot, lot lower.

Less than or equal to two

How many EJKs and summary killings in the Philippines so far? Less than or equal to two.

So far, there are only two clear candidates of EJKs and summary executions: that of Korean national Jee Ick-Joo and that of Mayor Rolando Espinosa.

According to Carlos, Jee Ick-Joo’s murder was found out to be a classic robbery-extortion case that’s unrelated to drugs, with the culprits using the War on Drugs only as a camouflage.

Again: Jee Ick-Joo’s murder is not part of the War on Drugs.
Meanwhile, warrants of arrest have been issued for the suspects in Espinosa’s murder [Star], and the 19 suspects – all of them policemen – have surrendered [Star]. Their cases are still being heard in the local courts so under the presumption of innocence, they are still considered innocent until proven guilty.

For argument’s sake, however, let’s assume that the Espinosa slay is indeed an EJK or summary execution, then let me ask:
  1. Does one clear case of EJK or summary execution warrant the international outrage against the Philippine Government today? 
  2. Does it warrant the imposition of economic sanctions that can destroy millions of Filipino lives?
  3. Why did Rappler say that the PNP gave a 7,080 EJK or summary execution body count even if the PNP clearly didn’t do so?

Rappler’s Willful Negligence?

Asked on what the PNP has done to correct Rappler’s monumental error, Carlos said:
When we saw it after the first three months of the Duterte Administration, we wrote to Rappler so they can correct it… They did nothing.
Asked about the date of that letter, Carlos said:
September 2016.
Carlos said Rappler’s news desk did not just ignore PNP’s letter, it even had the temerity to update that badly written article SEVENTY-FIVE TIMES.

Asked on what corrections they requested from Rappler, Carlos said:
We saw that the Rappler article shows different figures, and they claim the data comes from the PNP. (We avoid incidents like these) that’s why we have an analysis portion every time we release information, so you can’t just make up an interpretation of the numbers given. So Rappler didn’t… we didn’t receive a reply pertaining to (the September 2016 letter).
Asked on what other measures PNP takes to avoid confusions like these, Carlos said:
Whenever I give them updates, I myself insert an accompanying note stating ‘Deaths Under Investigation are not automatically extrajudicial killings and these are crimes of murder and/or homicide that are still being investigated on.’
Carlos was referring to regular updates given to journalists covering the Camp Crame Beat. 

Camp Crame is the central headquarters of the Philippine National Police.

Seemingly exasperated over Rappler’s chronic non-action, Carlos added:
How can they say differently when clearly, every time that I release the data, we put something like that (a note) there? It's more like questioning and playing with the use of words. They interpret it differently (from) the intention of the one that crafted the policy.
Bewildered by Rappler’s logic, Carlos said:
If that's how (Rappler) sees it, then all crimes in 2016 before Duterte took office and in 2015 under a different leadership... ...so all of those are EJKs, going by their interpretation.”

Presumption of Regularity

According to Carlos, 2,694 deaths resulted from legitimate police operations as of 05 April 2017, but they can neither be counted as extrajudicial killings nor summary executions because they were committed in the course of legitimate law enforcement operations.

Killings committed in the course of law enforcement operations are considered as justifiable homicides on the ground of self-defense, in accordance with President Rodrigo Duterte’s oft-repeated directive:
“Only if your life is in danger and the criminal is armed and hostile, shoot him [TP: Deaths].”
Duterte’s directive is in line with established law enforcement practices. For example, the directive merely resonated T.F. Martin and L.L. Priar’s 1955 paper “Police Techniques in Gun Fights”, published in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology [Martin & Priar 1955, p. 401], which states:
Shoot only when life is in danger or a vicious felon cannot be apprehended. In case of an escaping felon, shoot as a last resort and when all means of apprehension have failed. In case of a firearm assault against the police, always shoot to kill.
Now, critics of Duterte’s War on Drugs may argue that some of the 2,694 deaths must be extrajudicial killings or summary executions. However, the legal principle of presumption of regularity applies.
Presumption of regularity is a principle applied in evidentiary evaluation that transactions made in the normal course of business are assumed to have been conducted in the usual manner unless there is evidence to prove otherwise [US Legal].
That is, this globally-recognized legal principle implies that the 2,694 deaths are justifiable homicides, unless the critics manage to prove otherwise.

The problem, however, is that these critics never even attempted to file a single case against any policeman. The judiciary has shown a history of openly defying the Chief Executive [TP: Duterte vs Sereno], so these critics cannot claim unwillingness of the courts to hear these cases.

In the absence of evidence showing abuse of authority on the PNP’s part, all these 2,694 deaths, except possibly for the death of Mayor Rolando Espinosa, are considered lawful.

So how many EJKs or summary executions are there?

One, at most, so far.

Why the international rage?

Despite the lack of evidence, relying solely on Duterte’s fiery rhetoric, and without fully consulting the PNP, the opposition, led by vice-president Leni Robredo, propagated the grossly inaccurate death toll figure that “genius” Rappler employee Michael Bueza “computed”.

Michael Bueza, the same “genius” who not-so-subtly insinuated that Bilibid inmates could not have contributed to Senator Leila de Lima’s campaign because they’re not on the contributor list.
None of the contributors to the senator's 2016 campaign have been mentioned by the witnesses in the congressional inquiries on the reported drug trade inside Bilibid [Rappler].
Bueza is seriously a piece of work, along with his overlords Maria Ressa, Glenda Gloria, and Chay Hofileña, who allowed the publication of the article and its SEVENTY-FIVE updates.

This is the problem when a local news outfit is funded by foreigners. They need not care about customer feedback, because no matter how much they hemorrhage money, they still got lots in store. Screw accountability, screw dismal social media performance: all Rappler needs is good Search Engine Optimization and it can spread its fake news far and wide [TP: SPO4 Pia].

What's more worrisome is that NOBODY in mainstream media, except for the Manila Times, bothered to investigate this journalistic monstrosity.

God invented lightning for a reason. Let me just leave it at that. [ThinkingPinoy]

DONT FORGET TO SHARE! Did you like this post? Help ThinkingPinoy stay up! Even as little as 50 pesos will be a great help!

RELATED POSTS: