Apart from fighting drug lords, drug pushers, drug coddlers, and drug users, is President Duterte fighting the foreign media on another front?
One of my readers screams in an email: “The International Media War is ON! The big guns are firing: TIME MAGAZINE, NEW YORK TIMES, LA TIMES, THE GUARDIAN.
“The ostensive claim here is that they are crusaders – fighting an OGRE – the PUNISHER – Mr. Digong Duterte.
“What is the game plan?
“To put doubts in the minds of the people supporting President Duterte with the subliminal message – ‘How could you be supporting that leader of yours when you see he is doing all these bad things, which are not acceptable to us who are looking from the outside and are, therefore, quite objective about it. You see we are a bit more civilized than you guys and know better. SO, we are telling you that HEY, YOU ARE ALL SO WRONG supporting this man. All the blood that is in his hands are now in yours too – so you better dump him and be on the side of the good guys like us.”
Duterte nonchalant and unperturbed
President Duterte himself is nonchalant and unperturbed by the foreign media coverage of his drug war.
At a press conference in Davao City on August 21, President Duterte declared that he does not care if he is being portrayed by the international media in a negative light, saying he is just performing his duty.
“They say I am the most unpopular among the international press. I don’t care,” Duterte told reporters. “I have a problem to solve here in my country.”
Andanar as Sancho Panza
In his best imitation of Sancho Panza, Communications Secretary Martin Andanar goes farther than the President. He dared foreign journalists to visit the Philippines so they can see for themselves the extent of the drug menace in the country.
“The international media, as I have repeated time and again, should come to the Philippines and experience the life of the barangay (village) people who experience the drug problems,” Andanar told reporters on the sidelines of the Japan-Asean Media Forum in Mandaluyong.
“It’s not fair for just anybody to conclude that there are extrajudicial killings, that there are so many dead without even qualifying which ones are dead because of authorized police operations, and which ones are killed because of a gang war or regular murders,” he added.
Most disingenuous was Andanar’s claim that President Duterte, in waging the drug war, is just fulfilling a campaign promise in the May 2016 elections.
“He was elected with that platform. He already warned the electorate that if you vote for him, there will be bloodshed. If you don’t want bloodshed, don’t vote for me. But he was voted,” Andanar said.
Finally, Andanar contends that the drug problem is now a pandemic. “This drug menace is pandemic already. Extraordinary situations call for extraordinary measures.”
Andanar stressed that it is more important to protect the lives of innocent civilians and victims of illegal drugs than the lives of drug lords.
“Investigate the lives, the human rights of those who have been victimized by crimes due to illegal drugs. There are so many of them. Go back to them. Let’s not be one-sided,” he added.
Foreign media research their reports
The problem with Andanar’s line is that the international media usually are very thorough before publishing or broadcasting anything. They may know more about the Philippine drug problem than Secretary Andanar.
When the foreign media ask what are the compelling reasons and factual background behind President Duterte’s war on drugs, and his draconian call for the killing of drug suspects, what will the government say in response?
Malacañang claims, and President Duterte has said so himself, that there are about 3 to 3.7 million drug users in the country.
Where did this figure come from? Who compiled the statistics or estimates?
Likewise, who is supplying the intelligence and numbers that emboldened Duterte to name and shame government officials as coddlers of drug traffickers in the country?
Like the WMD problem in Iraq
So far as anyone can ascertain, the figures being cited by the President do not tally with existing official figures of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) and the Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB).
In a sense, the drug war faces the same problem that George W. Bush faced in the war on Iraq; the war was justified on the grounds that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and the invading US military forces could not find them. The entire war was discredited. Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has been belatedly shamed by the findings of a formal UK inquiry – that British participation in the war was unjustified and immoral.
The Duterte administration’s war on drugs could be faced with a similar quandary – finding the pandemic to justify the bloodshed.
PDEA and NBI clueless
At a hearing on Tuesday by the House committee on Dangerous Drugs, both the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) disclosed that they did not have any inputs in the war on drugs.
Under questioning by Kabayan Party-list Representative Harry L. Roque, PDEA Director General Isidro Lapeña and NBI lawyer Henry Canapi admitted they did not have any involvement in the preparation of President Duterte’s list of drug personalities.
When asked by Roque who could have been advising the President on the list of these alleged drug coddlers in government, Lapeña said he was not sure whether other agencies have been giving information to the President.
CNN’s devastasting report
When foreign media come to take up Secretary Andanar’s dare to visit, they are bound to ask similar questions. They will be justified in seeking substantiation because what they have been reporting is usually backed up by interviews and statistics.
For instance, CNN, in broadcasting on August 29 a report from the front lines of the drug war, backed up its report with a fact sheet on the illegal drug situation in the country. It reported the often-cited DDB figure, as of 2014, that there are some 1.3 million drug users in the Philippines. And that metaphetamine (local name “shabu”) is the principal illegal drug being produced and trafficked in the country.
CNN went on to relate six illustrative cases of the drug war and the killings. It was by many accounts a devastating piece of journalism.
Such journalism cannot be pooh-poohed by blanket statements that they are the product of a well-funded foreign media campaign against President Duterte.
To discredit them, Malacanang must provide a convincing story about the drug war.
See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil
Andanar should take time to visit with the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) to learn firsthand who are the foreign media that are watching what is really going on.
There he can disabuse them of misimpresssions and mistakes in reporting the drug war.
Of course, some of us may simply not want to consider what foreign media have to say.
As I recall, “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” discredited the three monkeys.
The story is a parable of moral responsibility.