Quick: Rank the following causes of death from most to least frequent:
Accidents_ Cancer _ Extrajudicial Killings _ Heart Attack _ Pneumonia _ Stroke _.
Here’s the order of deadliness, extrapolated from 2013 mortality data: heart attack, stroke, cancer, pneumonia, accidents — the top five causes of death in the country — and way below, EJKs.
Every year, heart disease kills about 100 people per 100,000 population. Strokes and other diseases affecting blood vessels are fatal to about 60 per 100,000. Some 45 succumb to cancer, and nearly 40 to pneumonia, just slightly more than accidents.
And EJKs? If one doubles the 6,000-plus drug-related killings since July to extrapolate an annual rate, the 12,000 rough figure would amount to 12 deaths per 100,000. So the chances of being extrajudicially killed is one-third to one-eighth the likelihood of dying by the top five causes of death.
So why do four out of every five Filipinos worry that a family member would be an EJK victim? That’s surely far more than those fretting over cardiac arrest, artery rupture or blockage, respiratory disease, malignant neoplasm, and fatal mishap?
In Social Weather Stations’ survey on the narco-crackdown and its casualties, conducted Dec. 3-6, fully 45 percent of its 1,500 adult respondents told SWS they were very worried over a family member possibly falling victim to extra-judicial killings. Another 33 percent were somewhat worried.
That’s 78 percent getting fidgety over EJKs. One wonders if heart attacks or accidents worry as many Filipinos.
Cheering and fearing the police
Why the widespread anxiety over a far less fatal cause of death? Could it be that four-fifths of adults have drug users or traffickers in their families, who might then be killed?
Nope. Estimates of drug addicts range between 3 million and 5 million, not even one-tenth of the 103 million projected population this year.
Maybe respondents know of law-abiding folks like them who were killed for allegedly trading or using narcotics, even if they never touched the stuff. So even the innocent feel threatened.
If that’s so, then why did 84 percent of respondents in another SWS survey in September, express satisfaction with President Rodrigo Duterte’s anti-narcotics war, with just 8 percent dissatisfied?
In all regions, the campaign’s ratings were excellent: 90 percent satisfied in Mindanao, 87 percent in Metro Manila, 85 percent in the Visayas, and 80 percent in Luzon outside the metropolis.
By income level, 86 percent of the E class expressed satisfaction, and 84 percent among the other income segments. And four-fifths also believed the crackdown did not discriminate against the poor, despite media reports saying so.
Now, would anyone feel satisfied with a crackdown, no matter how much it reduced drugs, if there was a more-than-minuscule chance of he or his loved ones being killed? No way.
Yet SWS reports that four-fifths of Filipinos are satisfied with the anti-drug war, and about the same number fear being murdered in it.
Are you or anyone you know one of those cheering and fearing the drug-hunting police?
Plainly, public concern over EJKs as surveyed by SWS reflects not the true chance of being killed, but perceptions shaped by constant news coverage of anti-drug casualties.
How serious is serious?
There’s another interesting set of matching SWS scores: those who say the killings problem is serious, and those who believe the Duterte administration is serious about solving cases of extrajudicial killings.
Fully 39 percent of respondents think the EJK problem is very serious, just one percentage point more than those who believe the government is serious in getting to the bottom of those murders.
For those who deem the problem somewhat serious, along with efforts to solve cases, the scores are 30 percent and 32 percent, respectively.
In sum, those surveyed mostly consider EJKs a grave issue, but trust the police in solving them.
This despite unceasing and graphic media coverage of killings, but hardly any reports about cases solved and perpetrators charged and arrested.
How serious is serious?
The chance that suspects being arrested would die is about 5 percent: 2,102 killed in police operations, and 40,932 arrested, as of mid-December. But some 4,000 have been murdered not by police, but suspected vigilantes.
Meanwhile, nearly nine out of ten respondents strongly or somewhat agree that “From the time Rody Duterte became president, there has been a decrease in the drug problem in my area.”
There are hardly any extensive press reports of big declines in drug trafficking and use nationwide. Hence, people must have seen less of it in their area, as well as scores of addicts and pushers surrendering. Some 800,000 have reported to police.
One more statistic to ponder: Nearly all respondents believe it is “important” to keep drug suspects alive in anti-narcotics operations.
Not surprising: hardly anyone would say that protecting lives, even of criminals, is unimportant, especially in a devoutly Christian nation. What would have been a more revealing question is: “Do you agree or disagree that the many deaths in the anti-drug campaign was the key factor behind the surrender of hundreds of thousands of drug users and pushers?”
If a significant number say yes, that explains why people overwhelmingly support the anti-drug campaign, despite the surveyed fears and concerns over EJKs.
Now, what should President Duterte and his government do about the SWS polls?
Safeguarding the nation from crime and drugs, and protecting suspects’ lives and rights should both be pursued, whether they win one percent or 101 percent public approval.
For sure, any crackdown on lawlessness spawns some excesses, like the 5 percent of suspects killed, compared with total arrests. And we lament and condemn the roughly 6,000 total deaths, including 4,000 suspected vigilante victims, even as we laud the surrender of 800,000-plus offenders.
Whatever the approval ratings, one EJK is still one murder too many. Survey or no survey, the government must move resolutely to fight drugs without murdering suspects.
How do we do that? Let’s talk about that next week.
(A Blessed Christmas and a Joyous New Year to all!)