Fri, 22 Sep 2023

CHEERS TO freelance journalist Rambo Talabong for his video report on May 25 that took an introspective look into his coverage of the "war on drugs."

What's the Story?

In the 11-minute video, Talabong laid down what he admitted as flawed thoughts while covering the "drug war" in the past six years. His three "maling akala" (wrong assumptions) were the following:

  • There are a lot of drug users and most of them are "addicts"
  • Drug users are "automatically" involved in crime or become "problematic"
  • The police are the solution

What the Report Debunked

Talabong recalled how former President Rodrigo Duterte claimed in 2016 that there were 4 million "drug addicts" in the Philippines. He pointed out the flaw in the use of the word "addicts" and the data itself. He cited government data, which reported 1.8 million users as of 2015, to counter Duterte's claims made when he was running for president in 2016.

Talabong quoted economist JC Punongbayan who had called Duterte's erroneous claim a "manufactured crisis" or "gawa-gawang problema" (made-up problem). Talabong said the problem caused fear among the public.

Lawyer Kristine Mendoza, Convener of the non-government Drug Policy Reform Initiative, added in the video that the false number of people who use drugs served as "emotional framing" to incite a strong sense of fear among people to make them accept "safety, security, public order" as a justification for the "drug war."

Mendoza pointed that only 11% of drug users worldwide are considered "problematic" - drug users who would require interventions such as rehabilitation — and that these are not even directly linked to violent behavior. She explained that there is no correlation between the use of drugs and crime and that is there is no evidence to suggest that drug use contribute to a spike, for example, of criminal activity.

In fact, according to Talabong, drugs are not the most harmful substance — it is alcohol. Moreover, while drugs can be addicting, nicotine found in tobacco is the most addicting substance.

Inez Feria, Executive Director of Nobox Philippines, added in the video that "because of the narrative that we have, it became a normal thing" to assume that, more than other substances, drugs make people commit crime.

Why Is this Important?

Talabong, who used to report for Rappler, acknowledged that even journalists had this flawed tendency each time they asked "Nagdroga ba sila talaga?" ("Did they use drugs?") or "Meron bang basehan sa pagpatay?" ("Is there a basis for the killing?") when reporting on crime incidents.

He concluded in Tagalog that he made the video because these were flawed thoughts that he harbored for so long as a reporter - thoughts that are, unfortunately, widespread in the news media.

More journalists should look back on their own reporting and correct the flaws in their perspectives and methods. This is not only for their sake but also for the thousands of families who lost their loved ones to the "war on drugs."

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