US President Donald Trump likes to talk about “fake news” a lot. Anything that he feels reflects badly on himself as a person as well as his administration and presidency is automatically dismissed as fake news.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte? Not so much. Unlike his American counterpart, Mr. Duterte can dismiss any news he does not like because he truly does not give a damn, with few exceptions.
This is not to say that he is dismissive of all negative news about his presidency. When someone in his administration releases data that does not conform to the view that he has created about the state of the country, that government official can expect to be summarily dismissed, and later accused of wrongdoing.
Ask the average Filipino if extrajudicial killings (EJKs) are a fact of life in his country, and nine times out of 10 you will get a yes. Even from Duterte diehards. I know a few such Dutertards and they offer the same reason – those killed are mostly scum of the earth who deserve what they got.
But ask that same Pinoy how many of his countrymen have been victims of EJKs and you will get a blank stare, at best, or a wild guess, at worst.
So what’s the true number? Is it four thousand? Five thousand? Ten thousand? More?
The chances of getting an accurate answer are lower than low since no one really knows.
Ask the Philippine National Police and they will cite statistics that say only a handful – maybe two or three – have been killed by cops extrajudicially, and in all cases the policemen involved were rogues to begin with, and have been administratively charged and/or dismissed. Blah blah blah.
One reason for the huge discrepancy in figures may be because a good number of the EJKs were committed by men riding in tandem in motorcycles. There are literally hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of cases of men riding in tandem targeting supposed drug users or peddlers.
The Dutertards whom I know may be half right. Drug pushers deserve to be put to death for the ills they spread upon society, but only after they have been charged and proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt. It is the killing of drug users that I take issue with the Duterte administration. It is only in the Philippines where these drug addicts and dependents – who should be considered as victims – are considered criminals.
When I was in high school, most of us at least tried marijuana and other illegal substances. We were kids, not criminals. So if we were in high school during these Duterte years, does that mean that we should be put to death by tandem-riding assassins?
We all know the answer to that one. And just to prove that drug users can rid themselves of the habit, I am proud to say that the majority of the guys I smoked weed with back then are now productive members of society, either as professionals, top executives, or highly successful entrepreneurs.
There were tragic exceptions, of course. Those who could not escape the habit saw their health collapse when they should have been at the prime of their lives, and passed away with friends and family regretting that they never attained their full potential.
I will say it again and again: drug dependents do not deserve to be killed by the police or the vigilantes acting in the name of their idol, President Duterte. One figure that landed one executive of the administration in hot water came from the chief executive himself, who said early in his regime that there are at least 1.5 million Filipinos hooked on drugs.
Where he got this figure is not clear, but Mr. Duterte stands by it.
The EJKs have had a chilling effect on society. We have become jaded to the senseless killings.
In other cases, the motorcycle-riding killers snuff out lives of men and women who are not even involved in drugs in any way. To this day, a friend and colleague of mine who was killed by motorcycle riding assassins earlier this year has remained just one of the thousands of victims who may never find justice.
He has become just another statistic, and soon enough his case will be forgotten.
How many more will be killed extrajudicially during the Duterte administration?
Nobody knows. But if just 10 percent of the supposed 1.5 million drug dependents are targeted, that means 150,000 Filipinos will die in the name of Mr. Duterte’s war on drugs. If we put the number of killed thus far at 10,000, Then the police and the vigilante-assassins have 140,000 more to go.
Meaningless numbers? I think not.