Between Bato and a hard place

For a couple of days now, the PNP Chief has been belching fire at the media, the public, and anyone else critical of the casualties on the “war on drugs.” He blames the media, for example, for highlighting a few (undeniable) liquidations, resulting in doubts being cast over the methods or even validity of the PNP’s efforts. As of this writing, his latest assertion is that critics are ungrateful, considering the blessings of the anti-drug effort. If you’ve been following the news, you’ve been experiencing his outbursts in real time so there is no need to enumerate them in detail.

What his comments do reveal, is that he is caught between his role as PNP Chief and a hard place, which is the increasingly harsh snapshots of public opinion the surveys of Social Weather Stations represent. Three snapshots come to mind, which means a quick review is in order. The first two date to last November, when SWS found 74% nationally believed drug suspects shouldn’t be killed, and December, when SWS found that 78% feared they or a loved one might be killed. Yet the public in both surveys expressed satisfaction with the anti-drug campaign (84% in November) and said there’d been a reduction of drug-dealing in their neighborhoods (88% in December).

From June 23-26 of this year, SWS asked three new questions on the so-called “war on drugs,” which resulted in interesting snapshots of public opinion at the time the questions were asked.

Question 1: Asked “Many of those killed by the police in the anti-drug campaign did not really fight against the police,” 54% agreed (20% strongly agreed, 34% somewhat agreed). Undecided were 25%, while 20% disagreed (8% strongly disagreed, 12% somewhat disagreed).

Bearing in mind that the survey had sampling error margins of ±3% for national percentages, ±6% each for Metro Manila, Balance of Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao, the regional results were revealing as well. In Metro Manila, 63% of the population agreed, 18% disagreed, 19% were unsure; for balance Luzon, 56% agreed, 18% disagreed, 25% were unsure; while in the Visayas, 50% agreed, 24% disagreed, and 26% were unsure; and Mindanao, 49% agreed, 22% disagreed, and 28% were unsure. In terms of socio-economic classes, for class E, the poorest of the poor, 58% agreed; for class D, the majority of our population, 54% agreed; while class ABC, the upper and middle classes that have been the strongest base of support for the administration, 40% agreed.

Question 2: Asked “Many of those killed by the police in the anti-drug campaign are not really drug pushers,” 49% agreed (17% strongly, 32% somewhat), 24% disagreed (11% strongly, 13% somewhat), with 27% undecided. SWS observed that “the proportion of Filipino adults who believe that many of those killed are innocent of selling drugs is higher in Metro Manila than the rest of the country. In Metro Manila, 58% agree that many who have been killed were not drug pushers, followed by the Visayas at 52%, the rest of Luzon at 48%, and Mindanao at 45%… Belief in the innocence of those killed by police is lowest among class ABC at 38%, followed by class Eat 45%, then class D at 51%.”

As for Question 3: “Many are lying and pointing to their personal enemies as drug users or pushers in order to give an excuse for these people to be killed by police of vigilantes,” 51% agreed (19% strongly, 32% somewhat), 21% disagreed (10% strongly, 11% somewhat), while 28% were undecided. SWS in its report said there was “a higher rate of agreement in Metro Manila (63%), where most of the killings have occurred, than the rest of the country [where the] level of agreement in Mindanao is 51%; in Visayas, 42%; and in the rest of Luzon, 50%.”

At first blush the numbers tell that in late June this year, in terms of all three questions, those that agreed with them were almost twice as many as those who disagreed. Furthermore, aside from those who agreed, the next-largest percentage represented people undecided on whether they agreed or not –a large percentage overlooked in most commentaries on these results. And that those who on the whole, believe the PNP and that those killed are what the PNP claims they are, is a minority compared to those who hold contrary or uncertain opinions.

But most overlooked –both by PNP Chief de la Rosa and most people encountering these numbers—is that although the SWS report was issued on September 27, they only give us an insight as to where public opinion stood four months ago. In his public rages against the media and the public, de la Rosa seems to think the surveys are the result of reports on the liquidations that took place in Bulacan, Caloocan, and other places in August, because his response to being asked about the survey results was to complain about the attention paid to the case of Kian delos Santos and others. But this isn’t the case.

It’s actually far more troubling for the PNP. Two months before the mass liquidations in August, public opinion had already turned against the PNP. Most commentators (myself included) have assumed all along it was the killing of Kian and others, which finally made the public recoil in horror and outrage. Instead, what the SWS June numbers tell us is that the August liquidations probably confirmed what the public had already been thinking all along. There is a fundamental difference between the two: being jolted awake in August is different from concluding that what you already suspected, is in fact the case.

The difference is in intensity, and suggests the next numbers people will be looking at, should the three questions be asked again: where will the one-third, still undecided last June, be by the time the survey takes place?