RAPPLER is having a word war with Manila Times columnist Rigoberto Tiglao.
In a news article first posted on September 13, 2016 and last updated on March 26, 2017,Rappler wrote: “There had been over 7,000 deaths linked to the ‘war on drugs’ – both from legitimate police operations and vigilante-style or unexplained killings (including deaths under investigation) from July 1, 2016 to January 31, 2017.”
Tiglao challenged Rappler’s statistics in his column of March 20. He pointed out that Rappler’s figure of 7,080 deaths since July, 2016 is erroneous, considering that it is a simple sum of the number of deaths resulting from legitimate police drug-related operations (2,555) and those who died from causes yet to be determined, but many of which are suspected to be drug-related (4,525).
This is a fair criticism, considering that it is in fact wrong to assume that all 7,080 deaths are linked to the war on drugs, when only 2,555 are certainly due to legitimate and government-authorized causes, while the real causes of the remaining have yet to be confirmed after an investigation.
The only fair conclusion that a prudent journalist would have had was that there are at least over 2,500 deaths linked to the war on drugs, and the figure could go as high as 7,000, assuming that all the other deaths under investigation will be proven to be drug-related.
The key word is “suspected,” for it is not correct to assume that just because the victim is a drug user or pusher, that such death is already a confirmed case that is directly related to the war on drugs. It is also not accurate to assume that just because the death is vigilante style, or unexplained, that it is already related to the war on drugs.
Reporting statistics is always a tricky game. What is even trickier is how to accurately describe the numbers and figures contained in tables, bar graphs and pie charts.
Rappler’s transgression lies in the words used by Michael Bueza, the writer of the article. He committed the mistake of making a conclusion that is not supported by data, when he categorically stated that all 7,080 deaths were linked to the war on drugs, without the caveat that that is just a maximum possibility, and not a certainty.
Without such caveat, 7,080 became a lethal statistic that was reproduced, used and appropriated by those who want to profit from its misrepresentation.
In a scathing defense against Tiglao’s criticism, Rappler, in an article that was not claimed by any author, suggesting that it is a collective stance, argued that the PNP, without backing this up with a direct quote or a named source to provide evidence, only began using DUI when the government’s war on drugs came under attack. In doing this, Rappler insinuated that the term DUI was used not as an honest attempt to make a clean presentation of the data, where unexplained deaths are given a label, but that it was a sinister attempt to deodorize death statistics.
Rappler’s fixation on death statistics has turned its reporting to a war on statistics itself. It incorrectly assumed that all unexplained deaths are conclusively related to the war on drugs. When taken to task for making such faulty conclusion, it has used as a defense the suggestion that the label DUI appears to be just a PNP strategy to reduce the negative impact of the number of deaths.
Rappler must be told that regardless of whether or not the label DUI exists, the total number of deaths remains to be 7,080. The only certain deaths due to the government’s war on drugs is 2,555. A substantial number of the remaining deaths, now labeled as DUI, could possibly be related to drugs, and hence are collateral incidents to the government’s war, although not in the hands of the police engaged in a legitimate operation. However, those deaths need to be investigated, considering that it is wrong to conclude that all the DUI are in fact drug-related.
Rappler made the wrong conclusion that all 7,080 deaths are linked to the war on drugs.
This is what Tiglao has criticized. And this is its biggest sin, because this error has become the root of one of the most damaging fake news in recent history.
But instead of apologizing to the people, Rappler resorted to ad hominem attacks. This is what Rappler wrote: “What the ex-journalist and Arroyo apologist Tiglao should have done was to verify this claim and do his own legwork or, if he can’t, research his way through Google. But Tiglao is out to get Rappler. And that’s the only explanation for his series of fake news about us.”
It is outrageous that in trying to defend itself, Rappler miserably failed to reflect that it is the one whose flawed conclusion betrayed its failure to verify its claim, do leg work and conduct robust research.
Tiglao is being accused as one out to get Rappler.
But Rappler is the one that is out to get the President, even if it has to declare a war on statistics by misrepresenting deaths to propagate fakery.