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.