War on drugs: No EO signed
by DU30, a chaos of numbers

Photo taken by David Robie

(Photo taken by David Robie in Vinzons, Camarines Norte)

MORE THAN 20 years ago, Davao City was turned into the laboratory for its then Mayor Rodrigo R. Duterte’s war against illegal drugs. Now that he is President, Duterte has mounted a reprise of that war across the nation, saying that he is ready to put his honor, life, and presidency on the line for it.

This time around, Duterte commands an armed contingent that is a hundred times bigger than it was in Davao, and his “enemy” a thousand times more numerous. The “achievements” and casualty toll of his war are thus multiple times higher, even if it has been only 80 days since he was sworn into office.

Last week at the Senate, Edgar Matobato, a self-confessed hitman for the so-called “Davao Death Squad” or DDS, said that on orders on then Davao City Mayor Duterte, the DDS had killed, tortured, and dumped in unmarked graves up to 1,000 persons in Davao City from 1993 to 2013.

Matobato said a team of the city’s police officers and members and Civilian Security Unit personnel called the “Lambada Boys” carried out the summary execution of alleged rapists, kidnappers, snatchers, and drug pushers, and some other civilians.

Duterte’s deputies have denied Matobato’s allegations, with Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II even calling these “old lies.” Still, there is no denying that Duterte’s reign in Davao City had been marked by numerous extrajudicial killings, with Davao media attributing at least 150 deaths there from 1995 to 2001 alone to the DDS and then Mayor Duterte’s war against drugs.

Duterte’s expanded war has resulted in a death toll that is 10 times higher within a much shorter period: an average of 38 persons killed a day, or over 3,200 in the last 80 days.

Slipping, sliding

The number of those killed in police operations has charted a see-saw slide — from 1,506 later pruned to 1,105 as of Sept. 14, to 1,445 as of Sept. 8, and then to 1,140 as of Sept. 18 — all these according to reports of the Philippine National Police (PNP). The number of those killed by unidentified gunmen or vigilantes has also proven rather uncertain, and ranges from 1,391 to 2,073, again according to PNP reports.

Last Sept. 14 at a public hearing in the Senate, PNP chief Director General Ronald ‘Bato’ de la Rosa had said at first that 1,506 had been killed in police operations. He later revised this to 1,105 deaths, after supposed validation by the PNP Directorate for Operations.

But a PNP report sent to PCIJ said that from July 1 to Sept. 8, 2016, a total of 1,445 persons had been killed in police operations; 15,762 had been arrested (6,948 alleged drug users and 8,814 alleged drug pushers); 704,074 had “surrendered” (652,309 alleged drug users and 51,765 alleged drug pushers); and 859,299 houses had been visited under Project Tokhang.

Yet still, the PNP’s latest report as of 6 a.m. of Sept. 18, 2016 enrolled these numbers: 1,140 persons had been killed in police operations, apart from 1,391 “death under investigation” or persons killed by unidentified gunmen; 17,428 drug suspects arrested; 714,803 had “surrendered” (661,737 alleged drug users and 53,066 alleged drug pushers); and 1,041,429 houses visited.

Media to blame?

Whichever is the correct PNP count, these numbers best the casualty tally during the 14 years of martial law under the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos; from 1972 to January 1981, Amnesty International had recorded a total of 3,240 persons killed, 34,000 tortured, and 70,000 imprisoned in the Philippines.

The “accomplishments” so far of President Duterte’s war — by the numbers of those killed, arrested, and “surrendered,” as well as the supposedly slipping volume of index crimes — have been variably praised or criticized by fans and foes of the new administration.

Of late, though, Duterte and his officials, along with his defeated running mate in the last elections, Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, have criticized the media for supposedly dwelling on the constantly rising numbers of drug deaths, and a supposed lack of effort to compare these numbers with crime volume data under the previous administration.

But the government has only itself to blame for the media’s supposedly biased reporting on Duterte’s war. Some 10 weeks since its vigorous rollout, this war has turned into one with weak links in transparency and accountability.

Indeed, this is a war defined largely by the repeated and repetitious oral directives that President Duterte and de la Rosa have delivered nearly every day in press conferences and public events – even as Duterte himself has not seemed to signed on to any official issuance on the drug war. Duterte as President chairs of the Dangerous Drugs Board or DDB, the nation’s policy-making agency on illegal drugs that is supported by its implementing arm, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency or PDEA.

Written guidelines on the rules of engagement, protocols, and other documents about Duterte’s war remain secret, despite a formal request for access to information that PCIJ and the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) of human rights lawyers filed three weeks ago.

The PNP issues periodic reports on the war’s supposed quantitative “achievements,” but these are writ in constantly changing numbers and concepts. Unfortunately, these PNP reports that highlight only the numbers — killed, arrested, surrendered, and houses visited — remain the media’s singular source of information and data on the war’s supposed achievements.

Bato’s circular

On July 1, 2016, the same day he took his oath as PNP chief, de la Rosa signed and issued Memorandum Circular No. 16-2016 on the “PNP Anti-Illegal Drugs Campaign Plan: Project ‘Double Barrel.'” Topping its 12 “references” is the “Pronouncement of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte to get rid of illegal drugs during the first six months of his term.” The 11 other references are circulars, executive orders, letter of instructions, reports, and PNP manuals dating back to 2012 with the latest dated Dec. 17, 2015.

De la Rosa’s 18-page circular says its “Mission” is to “implement” the PNP’s war on drugs “in order to clear all drugs-affected barangay across the country… conduct no-let up operatons against illegal drug persoanlalities and dismantle drug syndicates.” The campaign plan “will be implemented in a two-pronged approach, namely Project Tokhang and Project HVT (high-value target).”

Project Tokhang, the circular said, “is a practical and realistic means of accelerating the drive against illegal drugs.” It will undergo, the circular continued, five stages: Collection and validation of information; Coordination; House-to-House Visitation; Processing and Documentation; and Monitoring and Evaluation.


What is worrisome is the heading under “Execution”: “The PNP intends to equally address illegal drugs problem in the barangays and at the same time pursue the neutralization of illegal drug personalities as well as the backbone of illegal drugs operation in the country.”

Nowhere in the PNP’s manual of operations does the term “neutralization” appear. By lay lingo, “neutralize” could also mean to kill or maim or immobilize another person.

All PNP unit commanders were ordered to “strictly implement the protocol on the conduct of anti-llegal drug operations;” submit an IMPLAN or implementation plan “within five days” from receipt of the circular and “weekly periodic assessment” on the conduct of the circular.” Most important of all, the circular stated that “performance of the commanders will be review (sic) and assess (sic) by the Oversight Committee every month.”

Apart from its top and bottom sections, the circular lifted copiously from prior anti-drug campaign plans that had been issued and enacted by previous PNP chiefs under President Benigno S. Aquino III.

None signed by DU30

Meanwhile, Duterte himself has not signed, and the Office of the President has not released, any executive order to define his role and accountability for the war on drugs.

Until yesterday, Sept. 18, Presidential Communication Office Secretary Martin Andanar was still telling PCIJ that he was not aware of any executive order been issued on the drug war. “None so far, none that I know of,” he said. “Pero let me check on that, kasi baka hindi ko lang nakita (maybe I just missed it).”

A deputy of Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea also confirmed the non-existence of an EO for the intensive anti-drug campaign, saying, “Wala pa, wala pang inuutos sa akin, pero baka sa ibang lawyers meron (Nothing yet, I haven’t been told to prepare any yet, but maybe the other lawyers have been).” Told that none exists on the Official Gazette’s website, the lawyer said, “Wala pa, it should be there kung meron (None yet, it should be there if there were any).”

This is even as Duterte has proclaimed with characteristic bravado that he is ready to go to jail alone, on behalf of all the policemen and soldiers who may be sued for all sorts of legal infractions they may commit on account of the drug war.

“I will protect you,” Duterte told policemen yet again over the weekend in Isabela province. “I will not allow one policeman or one military to go to jail.”

Referring to himself as “mayor” instead of as the President of the Republic, he also said, “Lahat ng gawin mo, utos iyan ni Mayor Duterte… Siya ang ikulong ninyo. Ako ang magpapakulong (Everything you do, those are the orders of Mayor Duterte… It is he who should be put in jail. I will volunteer to go behind bars).”

And yet without any written rule that he has signed on to, holding Duterte accountable for the possible errors or excesses of his war would be a big challenge.

War’s super body?

Last July 13, though, de la Rosa told PCIJ in an interview that an executive order was being drafted to cover the creation of an inter-agency body that would supervise the war on drugs.

“‘Yung Oplan Double Barrel, that is the PNP’s campaign plan, sa PNP lang ‘yan, sa pag-address sa anti-drug problem ng Pilipinas,” the PNP chief said. “But above diyan sa Oplan Double Barrel meron tayong Executive Order na ginagawa ngayon dina-draft ng PDEA (which is under the Office of the President), wherein meron tayong, magkakaroon tayo ng Inter-Agency Anti-Drug Committee, so halos lahat ng ahensya ng gobyerno involved diyan.”

Twelve days later, in his first State of the Nation Address on July 23, President Duterte himself echoed this, saying: “We will create an Inter-Agency Committee on Illegal Drugs that will integrate efforts and strengthen the partnership of all stakeholders.”

So far, however, no such committee has been formed; neither has any executive order referring to it been signed.

Last Sept. 4, Duterte signed Proclamation No. 55, “Declaring A State Of National Emergency On Account Of Lawless Violence In Mindanao,” and commanded the Armed Forces of the Philippines and PNP “to undertake such measures as may be permitted by the Constitution and existing laws to suppress any and all forms of lawless violence in Mindanao and to prevent such lawless violence from spreading and escalating elsewhere in the Philippines, with due regard to the fundamental civil and political rights of our citizens.” But this document, which was triggered by a deadly bombing in Davao City, neither refers to nor covers the conduct of his war on drugs.

DDB regulations

Absent an EO on the drug war signed by Duterte, what exist only are agency guidelines and reports, notably from the PNP’s de la Rosa, the DDB, and Police Regional Offices (PROs), as well as updates from the PNP National Action Center on Tokhang.

The DDB, which has the secretaries of about 12 departments as ex-officio members, issued on Aug. 3, 2016 three regulations related to the drug war. These regulations cover the grant of cash rewards to policemen and police units on account of anti-drug operations; revised the guidelines for the conduct of “Barangay Drug-Clearing Operations”; and spelled out the guidelines and form templates on “handling voluntary surrender of drug personalities.”

Other important data are harder to get, including the results of the investigations of the PNP-Internal Affairs Service and Scene-of-Crime Operatives (SOCO) on the wrongful deaths and killings that the police had blamed on alleged unidentified gunmen or vigilante groups. Such reports seem to have been kept under lock and key for now.

Also hidden or among the least disclosed thus far are the results of the PNP’s achievements on “supply-reduction” and the “internal cleansing” of the police force. Various PNP officers have said only that 141 officers have tested positive for drugs while up to 300 officers have been tagged as coddlers of drug syndicates.

War’s script?

There is, however, the “PNP Manual for Operations” and the “Revised PNP Manual on Anti-Illegal Drugs Operations and Investigation” that were published in 2012 and 2014 respectively by de la Rosa’s predecessors. These spell out rules for the conduct of police operations against illegal drugs.

A virtual script for Tokhang and Double Barrel can also be found in the PNP Letter of Instruction 16/2012 dated July 2, 2012 that covered the conduct of “Oplan Kontra Droga Charlie” or “Plan for Revitalized Campaign Against Illegal Drugs” of the Benigno C. Aquino administration.

The so-called “five pillars” of Tokhang and Double Barrel seem to have been lifted or copied from Kontra Droga Charlie, which talked about a similar “five-point anti-illegal drugs strategy” and a “four-level approach in anti-drug operations.”

According to PNP LOI 16/2012, the “strategy” consisted of:

• Supply Reduction;
• Demand Reduction;
• Internal Cleansing;
• Legal Offensive; and
• International Cooperation.

The “approach” meanwhile was made up of anti-illegal drugs operating units of the police at the national, regional, district, provincial, city, and municipal stations. Each of these was assigned targets or scope of operations. The plan extended from national-level traffickers and international trafficking down to “eradicating street-level distribution through barangay clearing operations.”

But the picture becomes muddled once more when one tries to assess what has happened to Tokhang so far. At the very least, this is because Duterte’s war on drugs seems to be undergoing constant revision in terms of the changing numbers — aggregate and disaggregate values — and concepts used in PNP reports on Tokhang’s reported accomplishments.


Until Week 4 of the Duterte administration, PNP reports offered only total numbers of those killed in the drug war, even as these focused only on the deaths incurred during police operations. Media, meanwhile, started counting the bodies felled by bullets supposedly coming from the guns of unidentified killers or vigilantes, and not from those of the police.

By Week 5, PNP reports enrolled separate numbers for those killed “in police operations” and “by unidentified gunmen.”

By Week 8 at a Senate hearing on the drug war last Aug. 23, de la Rosa yet again spliced the numbers differently in terms of those killed “in police operations,” “deaths investigated,” and “deaths under investigation” or DUI. The last category, de la Rosa explained, covers deaths on account of all sorts of reasons, and not just drugs.

A comparison of reports from official sources reveal a more problematic situation: between statements of the President and de la Rosa, and reports from the PNP and anti-drug agencies, the numbers of drug dependents in the nation keep shifting up and down, even as the data entries are not comparable, and the data categories or concepts keep changing.

For instance, the PNP’s reports on “Crime Volume” and “Crime Index” are not a perfect reference for tracking the impact of the drug war on the number of crime incidents across the last few months.

The latest “Quick Look Crime Environment Report” of the Crime Research Analysis Center of the PNP Headquarters as of July 30, 2016 tracks the incidence of index “Crimes against Person” and index “Crimes against Property,” based on police blotter reports.

Under the first category, the PNP tracks incidences of Murder, Homicide, Physical Injury, and Rape; and under the second, Robbery, Theft, Carnapping, and Cattle-Rustling. (Under the law, theft involves the stealing of something within reach while robbery involves forced entry.)

These are what de la Rosa calls “focus crimes” that by definition do not include crimes related to or prompted by drugs. It is therefore unclear how or why the PNP chief and the police continue to credit the drug war as the reason or cause for what they say has been an overall decline in crime incidence over the last 10 weeks. And while drug use and abuse may trigger either crimes against persons or property or both, the current war against drugs cannot be credited entirely for a change in crime rates.

Crime rates up, down

Too, contrary to de la Rosa’s claims, the PNP’s index crime reports show an alarming increase in the number of murder cases, month on month, from May-July 2015 to May-July 2016. Then again, his inference that the drug war has pulled down the number of crime incidents may be plausible in three index crimes: rape, robbery, and theft.

(Although Duterte took office only on June 30, 2016, the spate of killings of those suspected of involvement in the drug trade began soon after he was proclaimed winner of the May 9 presidential election. That then President Aquino failed to stop or even comment on such incidents in the twilight of his administration attracted much criticism.)

Last year, the number of murder cases for these three months was recorded at 859, 749, and 755, respectively. In May this year, the number of murder cases dropped to 766, or a change of 10.8 percent compared to the May 2015 figure, but rose to 803 in June (a percentage change of 7.2 compared to June 2015), and further up to 1,271 in July 2016 (an increase of 68 percent compared to July 2015).

The number of homicides during May and June this year also decreased compared to similar periods in 2015, but then increased in July by 8.6 percent compared to July 2015.

PNP data for May, June, and July 2015 listed 947, 790, and 879 rape cases respectively; in May, June, and July 2016, 779, 771, and 838 rape cases were recorded, or percentage declines of 17.7, 1.39, and 4.66 from the year prior.

In regard to robbery cases, the PNP reported dramatic declines: from 2,419, 2,550, and 2,757 cases in May, June, and July 2015, respectively, to 1,768, 1,799, and 1,648 the next year, or percentage decreases of 26.9, 29.45, and 40.22.

The number of theft cases recorded also showed steep decreases, according to the PNP: from 7,002, 7,050, and 7,168 in May, June, and July 2015, respectively, to 4,052, 4,348, 4,230 in 2016, or percentage declines of 42.1, 38.3, and 40.99.

Nevertheless, these all make for a mixed picture of more murder cases and fewer rape, robbery, and theft incidents. This is matched by the PNP’s mixed performance that has yielded, by its own reckoning, better “Crime Solution Efficiency” and “Crime Clearance Efficiency,” but also bigger “Crime Volume” across the nation, from May to July 2016.

1.24M, 3M or 3.7M?

But such trouble with numbers extends even further. By President Duterte’s account, for instance, the Philippines has some 3.7 million drug addicts. PNP chief de la Rosa’s own tally is just three million. Then there’s DDB, which in its “performance indicators” of its proposed agency budget for 2017 says there are only 1.24 million illegal-drug users in the country. Based on a Sept. 10, 2016 news report, however, the PNP seems more prone to agree with PDEA than with its own head or the President himself, having placed the number of drug addicts in the Philippines at 1.8 million.

In any case, Duterte and the 150,000-strong PNP have started to stretch the targets and deadline for completion for their war against drugs.

As a candidate for President, Duterte had promised to rid the nation of the drug menace in three to six months’ time, or between September and December 2016. He said he would not stop until he has destroyed the last drug lord in the land. PNP’s de la Rosa had professed to have that same commitment following his appointment as the country’s top cop.

In his SONA last July 23, Duterte reiterated his vow with a firm order for the police: “Double your efforts. Triple them, if need be. We will not stop until the last drug lord, the last financier, and the last pusher have surrendered or put behind bars — or below the ground, if they so wish.”

It hasn’t been made clear, though, by what results success in the war would be measured. For now, the only indications of “progress” in the government’s fight against illegal drugs are the rather confusing statistics released (somewhat reluctantly) by the PNP.

These include reports by the PNP that, as of Sept. 10, 2016, Duterte’s war against drugs has claimed the lives of 1,466 so-called “drug personalities,” apart from 1,490 drug-related “deaths under investigation.” A total of 16,025 individuals have also been arrested in 17,389 police operations dubbed “Oplan Double Barrel.” Too, the PNP said police teams had visited 900,814 houses under “Project Tokhang,” and compelled the surrender of 709,527 persons, including 52,568 alleged drug pushers and 659,959 alleged drug users.

In addition, the police have attributed at least 273 drug-related killings from July 1 to Aug. 15, 2016 to “vigilantes.”

By comparison, in its Annual Report for 2015, the PNP said that from January to December last year, its “Campaign Against Illegal Drugs” yielded these results: “27,349 anti-illegal drugs operations consisting of buy-bust operations, house raids/searches, and marijuana plantation eradications resulted in the arrest of 42,700 pushers and users, confiscation of illegal drugs with an estimated Dangerous Drug Board (DDB) value of Php5.737 billion, and the filing of 35,169 cases in courts.” The PNP reported, too, that in 2015, it arrested 499 out of the 1,444 “Top 10 Drug Personalities” in various regions of the country.

Drug lords, addicts

President Duterte, for his part, has explained the police’s inability to capture any “big fish” in the illegal-drug trade by saying that drug lords are mostly Chinese nationals living and located in China; hence, they cannot be easily snared by Filipino lawmen.

But this has not stopped the President from upping the ante in his war against illegal drugs. He now says the situation has turned into a “pandemic” and a “national security problem.” The caveat is that he has extended his self-imposed deadline for finishing the war by 18 more months. Too, instead of vowing to destroy “the last drug lord,” the President now talks about snaring “the last addict.”

In his speech at the awarding ceremony of the Metrobank Outstanding Filipinos last Sept. 11, Duterte said, “This campaign against the drug menace will not stop, it will not stop, until the last addict is eliminated. Pinupusta ko na presidency at buhay ko, for as long as it takes me. Two years, fine, even if they want to impeach me, okay.”

Perhaps it may help authorities make a better assessment of the situation if they reread a story done on Duterte back in November 2001, when he was still chief executive of Davao City. Aside from saying that there was “no such thing as a government-sponsored killing in the city,” Duterte had apparently expressed concern for the “innocent” among the 150 people killed supposedly by anti-drug vigilantes.

“That is Utopia”

MindaNews, a Davao-based news outfit that did the story, then asked Duterte if the killings would be justified so long as the victims were not “innocent.” His reply: “Hindi naman pero mas grabe kung [inosente]. Doble nga, eh. The fact that it’s being done is already sad. But to do it for personal reasons tapos i-attribute mo lang sa drugs, tapos wala naman pala, then you’re really sh-t.”

MindaNews’s next question was: Shouldn’t the city government then arrest and investigate these vigilantes?

Duterte – then on the fourth of what would be his seven terms as Davao City Mayor — had replied that catching and investigating the vigilantes would be impossible to do.

Ah, patay ang siyudad kung ganyan, lubong (Ah, the city would be dead then, buried),” MindaNews quotes Duterte as saying. “With 1,600 policemen, 255,000 square hectares, 1.4 million population, you expect the police to solve every crime, not only to solve but build a case against each and every one of them?”

He added, “Ah, naghahanap ka ng langit niyan (Ah, you’re looking for paradise in that case). That’s utopia. That’s Republic of Utopia. It’s not a republic anywhere in this planet.” – PCIJ, September 2016