VERA FILES FACT CHECK: PCOO Asec. Rafael-Banaag contradicts official gov’t data on drug war

(UPDATED) Communications Assistant Secretary Maria Rafael-Banaag contradicted what her office called the “only” official source of drug war data, #RealNumbersPH, when she denied that tens of thousands have been killed in the Duterte administration’s controversial anti-illegal-drug campaign.

The government’s own 2017 year-end accomplishment report, published by the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO), shows that in the first 16 months of the campaign against illegal drugs, over 20,000 deaths have already been recorded by the government.

STATEMENT

In a June 4 speech at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Rafael-Banaag said United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights chair Michelle Bachelet and Iceland Minister of Foreign Affairs Gudlaugur Thor Thordarson used “baseless,” “unfair estimates” on the number of casualties in the country’s drug-war, the Philippine News Agency (PNA) reported.

This was in reaction to Bachelet’s March 9 speech before the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), where she said “up to 27,000 people may have been killed in the context of the campaign against illegal drugs since mid-2016” in the Philippines. The PNA also quoted Thordarson as saying that “reports of extrajudicial killings” in the country have “reached new heights with some estimates up to 27,000 people killed.”

The PNA reported:

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.

Source: Philippine News Agency, Drug campaign critics using ‘baseless’ data: PCOO exec, June 4, 2019.

FACT

In its 2017 year-end report on the Duterte administration’s key accomplishments, the PCOO said that there were 16,355 “homicides under investigation” from July 1, 2016 - September 30, 2017, and 3,967 “drug personalities who died in anti-drug operations” from July 1, 2016 to November 30, 2017.

These data were in the “Fighting Illegal Drugs” chapter and labelled as “#RealNumbers.”

A screenshot of the Duterte Administration Year-End Report, 2017 Key Accomplishments

#RealNumbersPH is the government’s “unitary report on the campaign towards a drug-free Philippines, providing monthly tracking of information on operations.” On December 2017, Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said the public should “rely on #RealNumbers only.”

The Supreme Court, in an April 2018 resolution, asked the government to explain the more than 20,000 “officially confirmed” illegal-drug-related deaths:

“This is a total of 20,322 deaths during the Duterte Administration’s anti-drug war from July 1, 2016 to November 27, 2017, or an average of 39.46 deaths every day. This Court wants to know why so many deaths happened as expressly reported under the section “Fighting Illegal Drugs” of the Duterte’s Administration 2017 Yearend Report.”

Source: Supreme Court of the Philippines, Notice of Resolution (G.R. Nos. 234359 and 234484), April 3, 2018.


The latest #RealNumbersPH figures on the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency’s website, which covers July 1, 2016 to Mar. 31, 2019, show that there were 5,375 “drug personalities who died in anti-drug operations.”

The #RealNumbersPH campaign, which was launched in May 2017, has never included the number of homicides under investigation, unlike the data in the year-end accomplishment report.

The Supreme Court in its resolution also noted that the “government’s inclusion of these deaths among its other accomplishments may lead to the inference that these are state-sponsored killings.”

The UNHRC on July 11 adopted the resolution forwarded by Iceland, which calls on the international agency to probe the killings.

International human rights group Amnesty International said on July 8 that the UN should investigate the Duterte administration’s anti-drug campaign:

“Three years on, President Duterte’s ‘war on drugs’ continues to be nothing but a large-scale murdering enterprise for which the poor continue to pay the highest price. It is time for the United Nations, starting with its Human Rights Council, to act decisively to hold President Duterte and his government accountable. All it takes to be murdered is an unproven accusation that someone uses, buys, or sells drugs. Everywhere we went to investigate drug-related killings ordinary people were terrified. Fear has now spread deep into the social fabric of society.”

-- Nicolas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East and Southeast Asia.

Source: Amnesty International, Philippines: UN investigation urgently needed into Duterte administration’s murderous “war on drugs,” July 8, 2019.


UPDATE: Responding to this fact-check, the Presidential Communications Operations Office issued a statement, that it "has, in fact, been consistent with the figures it has been releasing since May 2017."



Sources

ABS-CBN News, UN rights body OKs investigation on PH drug killings, rights situation, July 11, 2019.

Amnesty International, Philippines: UN investigation urgently needed into Duterte administration’s murderous “war on drugs,” July 8, 2019.

Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Human Rights Council 38th session, Joint Statement on the Human Rights Situation in the Philippines, General Debate - Item 2, June 19, 2018.

Facebook, Realnumbersph - About.

Facebook, Official page of Martin Andanar, Dec. 3, 2017.

Human Rights Watch, Philippines: UN Takes Critical Step Toward Accountability, July 11, 2019.

Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, #RealNumbersPH.

Philippine News Agency, Drug campaign critics using ‘baseless’ data: PCOO exec, June 4, 2019.

Presidential Communications Operations Office, The Duterte Administration Year-End Report 2017 Key Accomplishments.

Rappler, U.N. rights council adopts resolution vs PH drug war killings, July 11, 2019.

Supreme Court of the Philippines, Notice of Resolution (G.R. Nos. 234359 and 234484), April 3, 2018.

United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, High Commissioner Bachelet calls on States to take strong action against inequalities, Mar. 6, 2019.



(Guided by the code of principles of the International Fact-Checking Network at Poynter, VERA Files tracks the false claims, flip-flops, misleading statements of public officials and figures, and debunks them with factual evidence. Find out more about this initiative and our methodology.)

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