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What CNN, the New York Times & Time Magazine all got wrong about the Philippines President Duterte's War on Drugs

Updated on September 7, 2016

The Philippines War on Drugs is making US headlines

The Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte was inaugurated on June 30 2016 and has been making headlines ever since in his country and more recently the US.

Winning the election by promising a war on drugs President Duterte wasted no time getting started. Within 53 days of taking office 160 government and law enforcement officials were named as drug involved personnel, over 600,000 drug users and dealers surrendered to police voluntarily with over 10,000 more dealers and users being arrested by police.

By most measures the War on Drugs has made major progress garnering a 91% approval rating for President Duterte from the Filipino people. But it's making headlines in the US for different reasons.

Approximately 1,900 deaths from July 1 to August 23

From July 1 to August 23 there were approximately 1,900 homicides in the Philippines including criminals killed in official police operations. CNN, Fox News and Time Magazine allege these are all related to the Philippines' War on Drugs. Here are some excerpts from each news source

"Lifeless bodies lying on the streets of the Philippines are a visceral sign of new President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs.

So far more than 1,900 people have died. Of those more than 700 have been killed in police operations since Duterte took office in late June, according to police statistics. Many of the unsolved deaths are attributed to vigilantes."

— Duterte crackdown: 6 stories from the front lines - Euan McKirdy - CNN

Killings by the police and vigilantes in the Philippines’ war on drugs have soared to nearly 1,800 in the seven weeks since President Rodrigo Duterte was sworn into office, the nation’s top police official told a Senate hearing on Monday.

— Nearly 1,800 killed in Duterte's drug war - Richard C. Paddock - New York Times

The director general of the Philippine National Police (PNP), Ronald dela Rosa, told a Senate hearing on Aug. 22 that 712 people had been killed in police operations in the seven weeks since the crackdown began, and that another 1,067 had died at the hands of vigilantes. By one account, there is official pride in the death toll.

— Almost 1,800 people have died in seven weeks in the Philippines' - Rishi Iyengar - Time Magazine

The figures cited in these articles come from the testimony of Philippines National Police Chief, Ronaldo Dela Rosa, given during the Philippines Senate hearings on alleged extra judicial killings related to the War on Drugs from the period of July 1 to August 23. These hearings were held August 22-23.

However, according to PNP Chief Dela Rosa, the actual death toll in the War on Drugs during this period was fewer than 1,100. The figures were presented as follows

  • 756 suspects killed in police operations while resisting arrest
  • 273 drug related vigilante killings

Additionally during this same 53 day period PNP Chief Dela Rosa notes there were

  • 757 homicides that were undetermined if they were drug related
  • 40 homicides unrelated to drugs

The aforementioned news sources falsely, attributed the 757 undetermined homicides to the War on Drugs.


Why we can't assume the 757 undetermined homicides are drug related

The Philippines has a homicide rate 3 times that of the US averaging roughly 900-1,100 homicides per month or about 30-36 homicides per day. With an average of lets say 33 homicides per day for a 53 day period that would total 1,749 expected homicides for July 1 to August 23.

With 1,749 homicides expected for the same period it is incorrect to assume that the 757 undetermined homicides are a result of the War on Drugs. PNP Chief Dela Rosa made this point specifically telling the Senate

". . . we would like to make it clear your honor that not all these DUI, Death under Investigation, (referring to the 757 undetermined deaths) are drug related cases . . ."

In fact if we assume the opposite, that the 757 undetermined homicides and 273 drug related homicides are part of the normal homicides that would have occurred regardless of the War on Drugs, then include the 40 homicides unrelated to drugs, the homicide rate has fallen by about 39% averaging only 20 homicides per day; a point made by Senator Peter Cayetano in the Senate hearings.

The Truth

The truth is no CNN, there weren't 1,900 deaths as a result of the War on Drugs in the Philippines, no New York Times there weren't 1,800 deaths at the hands of police and vigilantes, and no Time Magazine there weren't 1,067 vigilante killings.

The truth is there were

  • 797 citizen committed homicides which cannot be attributed to the War on Drugs
  • 273 drug related vigilante killings
  • 757 criminals killed in police operations while resisting arrest.


Do you think the NYT, CNN and Time Magazine were accurate in their reports?

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Do you think the media is covering the War on Drugs in the Philippines fairly?

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