Through Facebook, I was able to access a purported and still unauthenticated report in Time magazine on the Duterte administration’s war on drugs.
Entitled, “The Killing Time: Inside Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s War on Drugs” and bylined by a certain Rishi Iyengar, the report was allegedly published in Time’s August 25 edition.
I went to the nearest National Book Store branch to get a physical copy of the magazine (we, journalists, should not rely wholly on online postings). But strangely, the article is nowhere to be found in the Time issues now being sold in the NBS outlets in the country. It’s not in the August 29, 2016 issue (the latest), and the August 22, 2016 issue (the previous edition).
How does Mr. Iyengar’s article qualify as Time journalism if it has not been published? Was it published in Time’s US edition? If so, this country needs certification and proof from Time.
I googled the name “Rishi Iyengar” to determine whether he or she really exists, is a reporter for Time, or just a pseudonym or disguise. I drew a blank.
Phony investigative journalism?
The questions I raise are in every way material because the article in question deals with an issue of great moment to our country and our people today.
It pretends to be investigative journalism; it took the time to peruse international data and statistics, and it interviewed local people and public officials with possible knowledge about the drug war and the drug killings.
The article is profusely illustrated with colored pictures, with special emphasis on dead bodies and relatives of victims.
The article is highly critical of President Duterte’s drug policy, and his conduct of the war on drugs. It calls the drug deaths “extrajudicial killings.”
It reports: “As the body count soars, some say the real threat to the Philippines is not drugs but the President himself.”
It then highlights an ominous quote from our President: “We will not stop until the last drug lord … and the last pusher have surrendered or are put either behind bars or below the ground, if they so wish.”
The missing credentials are in a way regrettable, because the article contains some revealing information and statistics, such as:
1. The Philippines is hardly alone in executing people for drug-related offenses, judicially or otherwise, a characteristic of the region. According to a report last year by drug policy NGO Harm Reduction International, the only countries other than Iran and Saudi Arabia known to have executed drug traffickers since 2010 are all Asian: China, Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore and Indonesia. Thailand conducted its own war on drugs in 2003 under then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
2. Based on UN surveys on drugs and crimes, the Philippines is not listed as a place of high crime incidence. There were 232,685 cases of crimes against persons, involving physical injury reported in the Philippines in 2014, for a population of 98 million. By comparison, the UN Office on Drugs and Crimes says there were, in the same year, nearly 375,000 cases of assault in the UK, which, with a population of 64 million, has far fewer people.
3. The Philippines can be a deadly place, but it is not especially so. According to World Bank data, the Philippine rate of nine intentional homicides per 100,000 people in 2013 makes it only slightly more dangerous than Lithuania (7) or Mongolia (7), and puts it on a par with Russia (9). The US figure is 4.
4. In the five years from 2010 to 2015, PNP figures show that total murders across the nation’s top 15 cities averaged 1,202 a year. But many more people have already died in the first seven weeks of Duterte’s drug war.
The article goes on to suggest that the Philippine drug problem may not be as bad as the drug war suggests.
The writer concludes:
“In other words, the statistics show what any visitor to the country may easily see: Filipinos are not degenerates, who need to be protected from themselves, but are mostly a nation of decent, sober, law-abiding and God-fearing people. The most revealing Philippine statistic is this: 37% of Filipinos attend church on a weekly basis. Less than 20% of Americans do.
“Nonetheless, Duterte has succeeded in convincing large numbers of his people that drug use constitutes such an emergency that the very existence of the nation is threatened, and that only his rule can save the Philippines.”
Sloppy journalism, bogus heroine
There is a highly critical commentary on this purported Time article that has been posted on Get Real Philippines. It calls the piece “sloppy journalism.” It faults the piece mainly for the following:
1. In writing a report about Duterte and the war on drugs, the author interviewed mainly Senator Leila de Lima, and not a single frontline administration official.
The other interviewees of Iyengar were minor government officials such as Chito Gascon, the die-hard yellow CHR head appointed by Noynoy Aquino under whose presidency the drug lords thrived.
Iyengar makes a virtual heroine of Senator de Lima, by quoting her as saying: “We’re on a slippery slope toward tyranny.” And then he brands as a smear campaign President Duterte’s expose of de Lima’s links to the illegal drugs trade and her sexcapades.
An LP-funded campaign
There is talk in the grapevine of an orchestrated campaign, being led by former Aquino Budget Secretary Butch Abad and funded by the Liberal Party, to discredit President Duterte and his drug war in the international media and the international community. It will include demonstrations in front of our embassies and consulates abroad.
Some suspect that the campaign will use again the high-powered US public relations firms that made Aquino look good in spite of his incompetence and blunders. Their task this time will be to demonize Duterte and make foreign investors lose confidence in the country.
It’s a script that worked before in the fight to bring down Ferdinand Marcos. Rodrigo Duterte will be a different adversary.