Thu, 21 Nov 2019

Screengrab from Amnesty International - Philippines.

AMID RISING international concern about the spate of killings in the Philippines, the London-based human rights group Amnesty International (AI) released a new report on the Duterte administration's war on drugs last July 8, its second on the subject since January 2017.

The report highlighted their findings, including that of Bulacan as the new "killing fields" and the sustained justification of killing suspects during police operations with the rationale "nanlaban" (victim resisted arrest and fought back). Media reports noted Amnesty International's call for an independent investigation by the United Nations Human Rights Council.

The media were quick to report reactions from the administration, initially focused on quotes from Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo and high-ranking police officials, including Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Oscar Albayalde.

The print edition of the Manila Bulletin and GMA-7's primetime newscast 24 Oras did not report on the AI study at all. Other primetime newscasts cited what was said by AI and government officials.

The media's apparent disinterest in the new study is strange, given Amnesty International's 50-year-long track record of defending human rights around the world. Reports missed recalling AI's history as a watchdog of human rights violations, a record that has gained for the private organization recognition as a reliable source of information on abuse in times of war, conflict or controversial regimes. The organization is known for its rigorous research to support its conclusions. This gap then did not help the public appreciate the significance of its report.

News accounts also failed to emphasize that this was the second report of AI on the war on drugs in the country, and that its findings are consistent with those of the first: killings during police operations are likely extrajudicial executions. Media also did not point out that AI's research actually relied on data from the PNP itself. Rappler had published a story in February which called attention to the high casualty count in Bulacan, also based on PNP data - a reference which was not picked up by any of the reports.

The media remain indulgent of the government's narrative on its questionable policies. Their reporting on the AI findings is one example of how much journalists contribute to the Duterte regime's drive to sow doubt and hate against its critics.

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