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Editorial

Steep loss of trust

/ 05:14 AM March 03, 2019

Almost three years into President Duterte’s “relentless” war on illegal drugs, the latest survey by the Social Weather Stations reveals grave findings that should trouble Malacañang — if only it could be bothered to rethink and reform its flagship domestic policy.

According to the survey, most Filipinos fear they will be the next victims of the extrajudicial killings (EJKs) that have become the bloody hallmark of the drug war, and that policemen themselves are involved in the drug trade and in the EJKs.

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The loss of trust in the police is steep: 68 percent believe that some policemen are involved in the illegal drug trade; 66 percent, that some are involved in the EJKs of alleged drug suspects; and 58 percent, that they often plant evidence against suspects they arrest. In addition, majority — or 78 percent of the 1,440 adults surveyed using face-to-face interviews  — were worried that they or someone they know will become victims of EJKs. This figure represents an increase from the 73 percent in June 2017.

SWS pollster Mahar Mangahas delved into these pivotal findings in his column in this paper yesterday: “On 2/27/19, in ‘28% of Filipinos do not believe claims of ‘nanlaban,’ 28% believe, and 44% are undecided,’ SWS reported six surveys since December 2016 all showing that only one in four Filipinos believes the police claim that they kill the suspects in self-defense.

“Even worse, the great majority of Filipinos see policemen as drug war villains themselves, rather than as the people’s protectors. In December 2018, 68 percent considered the accusation that ‘some policemen are involved in the illegal trade’ as either definitely or probably true. This proportion was 70 percent in April 2017.”

The latest survey, conducted from Dec. 16-19, 2018, comes more than a week after Mr. Duterte said the war on drugs will be “harsher in the coming days.” But that such empirical evidence will sway the administration to reconsider its actions is unlikely.

There have been 5,176 deaths officially recorded since the campaign began in 2016, although local and international human rights organizations claim this number is severely understated and estimate actual casualties to be over 20,000, most of them from among the poor. (An October 2017 SWS survey also found out that a majority of the populace—60 percent—believes the drug war targets only poor people.)

The Duterte administration has faced heavy criticism and widespread condemnation over the EJKs, but the President has routinely shrugged them off. At one point, he even threatened to close down the Commission on Human Rights and told police to shoot human rights defenders who were “obstructing justice.”

The deadly antidrug war was supposed to be a deterrent to the further spread of the narcotics trade, but the number of drug users appears to be only ever-ballooning in Mr. Duterte’s head.

Last month, he raised the drug problem to the “level of national security,” claiming there were already 7-8 million drug users in the country. This figure is quadruple the 1.8 million estimate by the Dangerous Drugs Board in 2016 and double the President’s own pronouncements in 2017.

Where did he get such numbers? Philippine National Police Director General Oscar Albayalde had no idea, only saying that the President has “unlimited sources of information.” But spokespersons from the PNP and the National Bureau of Investigation later said Mr. Duterte may have just “upped” the estimates to challenge law enforcers to get their act together and do “more.”

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In other words, the President was making up numbers, in a bid to intensify his war. After declaring, on Feb. 20, that the campaign will be “harsher in the days to come,” he was asked if that meant a “bloodier” war. “I think so,” Mr. Duterte replied. He was the President, he said, and “I will not allow my country to be destroyed by drugs. I don’t want my country to end up as a failed state… it behooves upon me to see to it that my country is safe.”

But how safe is a country that has seen tens of thousands of deaths of its own citizens, and millions more in the grip of anxiety that they would suffer the same bloody fate, not in the hands of criminals, but in the hands of the police themselves?

As Mangahas pointed out, “The collateral damage of the deadly war on illegal drugs includes the people’s loss of trust in the police.”

A citizenry that has come to fear for their lives and loathe the supposed protectors and law enforcers in their midst is, by any measure, a sign of a state failing its people.

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TAGS: drug killings, EJKs, extrajudicial killings, Inquirer editorial, Philippine National Police, PNP, SWS survey, war on drugs
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