PCOO Assistant Secretary Marie Rafael

MANILA – Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Assistant Secretary Marie Rafael on Monday labeled as “sweeping and baseless” the 27,000 unverified killings being linked to the anti-illegal drugs campaign of the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte.

In her speech during 5th Diplomatic Briefing at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Rafael said international audience particularly United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet and Iceland Minister of Foreign Affairs Gudlaugur Thor Thordarson used “unfair estimates”.

“I would like to emphasize in the clearest possible terms the alleged 27,000 killings that has received a lot of international misunderstandings and misinformation,” Rafael said. “The 27,000 killings is a serious imputation, sweeping and baseless. Let us deal with this figure truthfully. And here’s the truth.”

Bachelet was previously quoted saying, "In the Philippines, several sources now estimate that up to 27,000 people may have been killed in the context of the campaign against illegal drugs since mid-2016” while Thordarson, in a separate quote, said, "We have in this body highlighted the situation in the Philippines, where reports of extrajudicial killings have reached new heights with some estimates up to 27,000 people killed.”

She clarified that there are no 27,000 deaths arising from the anti-illegal drugs campaign.

“There are 5,425 deaths as a result of this campaign, and we are addressing these through our effective accountability mechanisms,” she added.

Rafael said Bachelet and Thordarson might be referring to homicide cases recorded from 2013 to 2018.

“Note that these homicide cases are not at all directly related to the deaths during anti-illegal drugs operations,” Rafael said.

The homicide cases, she said, may have resulted out of road rage, land dispute, personal grudge, business rivalry, love triangle, family dispute or politics.

"Again, let me stress that the 27,000 cases being referred to are not cases of deaths arising from the campaign against illegal drugs of this administration," she added.

Data from the Philippine National Police (PNP) showed 12,288 total incidents of murder and homicide recorded in 2016; 11,442 in 2017; and 8,933 in 2018.

“Quite interestingly, we have found that from mid-2016 up to Dec 2018, the figures – estimated at 28,518 - are way lower than the homicide cases during the past administration that is from 2014 to mid-2016 at 29,711 incidents,” Rafael added.

Showing the real numbers of the war on drugs that started on July 1, 2016, Rafael said 1,308,078 drug personalities have so far surrendered while the 129,560 anti-drug operations have yielded 185,401 arrests and 5,425 deaths.

She said the real number 5,425 drug personalities who died, almost a fifth of the exaggerated data, are those where the victims were killed in anti-drug operations by government enforcers.

"Note that what may be considered perhaps as drug-related incidents are those where the victim is killed by non-government elements because he/she is an alleged informant or the victim or victims were killed and raped by drug addicts," she said.  

Politicization and challenges

“The campaign against illegal drugs has been full of challenges. Unfortunately, the efforts have been so politicized that even our achievements have been used against us,” Rafael said.

Rafael said the government is determined to finish the fight against illegal drugs which Duterte, the country’s first leader from Mindanao, started right on his first day in office on July 1, 2016.

“This government may be attacked on various fronts but let it not be said that we have done and watched at the sidelines while drug syndicates devastate our country, let it not be said that we have done nothing to make our streets safer for "mamang" driver and everyone – for our children to get home out of harm’s way,” Rafael said.

As a former mayor of Natonin town in Mountain Province, Rafael said she witnessed how illegal drugs have ruined many innocent lives including one of her relatives.

“These data are more than just a list of numbers for each number here is life- of a father, a mother, a son or daughter. As a former Mayor, I know and I understand how it is to see innocent lives get wasted due to illegal drugs, I’ve seen helpless victims and I’ve lost a nephew because of shabu,” she said.

Brave move

The PCOO official said the illegal drugs campaign is “one brave move” of the Duterte administration to protect “children today and in the years ahead” and to rebuild the nation after too many years of neglect and mistakes.

“How we long to live in a country, such as yours where we do not have to deal with the kind and magnitude of the ill effects of illegal drugs like that of what we have, but at least to live in peaceful communities,” Rafael said as she appealed for support from members of the diplomatic corps.

“But if you cannot give us that, an appreciation and understanding of what we are doing will make a big difference,” she added.

It may be recalled that PCOO Secretary Martin Andanar cited the report of the PNP “that a large number of deaths were done by the hands of vigilantes due to the rivalry between drug gangs”.

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador also said the problem with the statement coming from the UN officials is they rely on what they received as information coming from the critics and detractors of the administration.

Panelo hit Bachelet for her claim, citing several sources, which showed that an estimated 27,000 had been killed in the government’s massive campaign against illegal drugs

“We’ve been saying this info is wrong like for instance when she claims there are 27,000 deaths, and the official count is [about] 5,000,” he said. (PNA)