• Advocacy as demolition job: The Amnesty International report

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    ANTONIO P. CONTRERAS

    LOIDA Nicolas-Lewis, financier and loyal anti-Duterte overseas organizer, once said: “Doesn’t have to be true. Just needs to look like that.”

    Well, it looks like Amnesty International (AI), an international human rights watchdog, has heeded the advice and painted in its recently released 68-page report an image of “extra-judicial killing” or EJK in the Philippines that wasn’t necessarily true, but made it appear that it was.

    In strong, clear, accusatory words, AI expressed its deep concerns “that the deliberate and widespread killings of alleged drug offenders, which appear to be systematic, planned and organized by the authorities, may constitute crimes against humanity.”

    At the outset, we are not about to engage in bean counting about deaths to exonerate the guilty. One death is one too many, and every measure possible under the law must be taken to bring the perpetrators to justice, and any hint of negligence or even complicity on the part of state authorities must be severely condemned.

    But it is entirely different when facts are twisted, or misrepresented, to support a predetermined conclusion based on an advocacy bias, as part of a demolition job.

    The quoted part of the report above is a clear statement of a research hypothesis, for which data was gathered not to objectively determine whether to accept or reject it, in accordance with well-established social science research standards. AI, on the contrary, appears to have searched for data to support its foregone conclusion.

    A qualitative study, more so of the nature of a composite case study of several sub-cases, such as the one conducted by AI, is not expected to have a randomly selected sample. This is precisely why case study results, while providing insights on trends, patterns and themes, cannot and should not be used to make sweeping generalizations about the phenomenon being studied, which in this case is the existence of EJK in the country. This is also why it is expected of any qualitative researcher to declare the basis for selection of sample, since it is in doing so that one can delimit the scope within which the trends, patterns and themes culled from the research data can be identified.

    AI said that its report covered 33 cases of drug-related killings that involved 59 deaths but only in 20 locations in the country. The basis of the selection of the sample was not mentioned in the report.

    AI relied on 110 conveniently sampled key informant interviews, and on document research, focusing on police reports and newspaper stories. But diligence and transparency once again escaped AI when it failed to even present the exact number for each type of key informant. AI also failed to disclose its interview guides, which would have allowed an independent scrutiny of whether the questions asked were fair or leading or loaded.

    The key limitation to a qualitative case study is that in order for you to make a claim of an act that is “systematic, planned and organized by the authorities,” you have to present empirical data that supports your claim, but subject to the limitation that such only applies to the areas you sampled.

    The AI report makes use of words such as “many” or “appeared in several cases” to describe the incidence of some alleged violations, but did not in any way present a simple tally of all types of claimed violations, from planting of evidence, to victims being executed in front of family, to them being beaten up before being killed, to even the family members being beaten up.

    What is interesting is that AI cites that 20 of the 33 cases appeared to be legitimate police operations while 13 involved unknown persons, yet there was no attempt to even cross-tabulate the incidence of violations vis-à-vis this very important variable.

    AI relied heavily on the testimonies of respondents, without even considering the possibility of data being compromised by the respondents’ bias against the police. A distraught wife whose husband involved in drug pushing was killed in a police operation is not the most objective source of data, and hence care should have been exercised in the interpretation of results. It looked like AI was only skeptical of police reports.

    Finally, the most damning claim made by AI is the one on the alleged pay-offs made by the police on hits accomplished. AI makes it appear that this is a systematic, institutionalized practice, when the source of the information is one single unnamed police officer and two alleged hitmen. A prudent researcher would have been careful in casting this information as believable fact, and would have probed for motive and personality of the sources.

    AI is not being denied its bias. It is an advocacy watchdog for human rights. But even advocates nowadays try as much as possible to make their reports approximate the standards of social science research.

    AI simply failed the test. As a result, its EJK report is now being doubted as just part of a demolition job.

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    9 Comments

    1. Thank you for this enlightening piece.

      Most likely, their contact or the person who introduced them to the people they interviewed is a yellow supporter or worse, someone involved in the drug trade as a protector (whether a civilian, a police or a government official).

      And who are they to determine that something is a drug-related case when the case is unresolved? Only the court can decide on that. Even if the person is supposedly on the list of police as a drug pusher, it is still not valid (and who knows, someone might have been influenced to add the name after the death so that the death can be blamed on the drug war). AI shouldn’t be lumping together deaths from unidentified killers with police operations in the first place.

    2. What is that AI? You are correct , Sir, for exposing this agenda to oust the president. Persons behind this are so fuckinahurry to oust Duterte. they are bunch of brainless decent hypocrites. MAybe in the past they had succeeded in duping many of us to believ in them.. but not at this moment. ENOUGH is ENOUGH!

    3. Dear Professor. Contreras,

      Thank you, as usual for your clear insights on issues that are facing our country, positive or otherwise.

      Yes, this is very true with all kinds of surveys. Depending on the end results of an individual who is initiating the survey…questionnaires can always be manipulated to come up with the desired results! Again, like you mentioned…sampling can also be manipulated, depending on the areas/regions where the survey is done.

      I have always advocated that if you ask 10, 100, or a thousand individuals… it does not necessarily make a valid survey. To clarify, those whom you are interviewing…if one or 2 or 10 or 20 provide their response NOT to your AIM/GOAL…said numbers MAY NOT BE INCLUDED AMONG THE NUMBERS from the sampling!!! In short, the survey is NOT VALID…but who would know, except those taking the survey and/or the individual who initiated the survey!

    4. ang alam ko ang mga pulis ay nangongptong, even do kfr or in the case of the late korean national, killer for hire. they don’t contract anyone to kill for them. mukhang ang layo sa katotohanan ang nagbabayad ang pulis para patayin ang mga addicts at pushers.

    5. AP Contreras maraming salamat! Meron pang naniniwala sa Amnesty International? Meron naniniwalang ulol sa AI, si Chiz Escudero. Pastilan!

    6. With Lewis as financier it is LPs great hope to get back the reign of POWER tru LENI..Hwag naman Lord. maawa ka sa Pilipinas..hwag mo kaming ibalik sa pamumuno ng mga galit sa pobre,selfish sa pobre,, ,

    7. The Amnesty International is susceptible to the influence of money – just like any other organization in the world. Even the United Nations is susceptible to the influence of money. Did the UN ever castigate the USA for declaring war in the Iraq based on fictional evidence? A war that has resulted in tens of thousands of death of innocent civilians and the number is still going up … The UN will not dare castigate the USA as America pays almost 60% of the UN’s budget!