Column: On Ira Panganiban’s outburst, I call BS

Published on August 2, 2016.

MY RADYO Inquirer colleague Ira Panganiban posted something provocative on Facebook the other day, and it has since gone viral. Unfortunately, the multiplatform journalist got his facts wrong. Even worse, his assumptions did not only lead to the error; they also raise worrying questions about the true value of a human life. In the spirit of free speech and fair play, and as an admiring friend, I wish to set him straight.

“Let’s call a spade a spade,” Panganiban wrote on July 30. “Andaming matatalino sobrang ingay tungkol sa pagpatay sa mga pusher at adik!!! (So many intelligent people are making too much noise about the killing of pushers and addicts!!!)”

“These so-called decent and progressive thinkers all cry about the number of killings since President Rodrigo Duterte assumed his post.”

“The Philippine Daily Inquirer even has a running tally of the killings in their pages. The last number I looked at is 400+ nationwide!!! (Sorry PDI kayo lang may running tally eh.)”

That last parenthetical remark could be understood as a sorry-not-sorry statement: “Sorry, PDI, you’re the only one with a running tally.” But in fact, other news organizations have started putting together tallies of the killings, too—including the TV network Panganiban used to work for. Some in fact have even higher body counts. It is true, however, that the Inquirer Group started first, on July 7. But the Inquirer’s “Kill List,” hosted on one page in the Inquirer.net website, is not so much a tally as a list: In this page, updated late every Monday and Thursday, one can read the names of hundreds of the killed; several dozen of the dead remain unidentified; several are identified only by the aliases they were known for.

“So,” Panganiban then asks, “where was the Inquirer in 2014? Did they have a running tally then? Why? In May-June of 2014, the PNP recorded 993 riding-in-tandem killings in Quezon City alone!!!! Sa Quezon City pa lang yan!!!! (That’s just in Quezon City!!!!)”

My response: There’s nothing there. It’s a statistic for one thing, hijacked to stand for something else altogether. Worse, it’s a fraud perpetrated by people (in Panganiban’s case, by his source) who think there’s no difference, no discernible impact on society, between a hundred and a thousand killed. But as our social media feeds in the past month can tell us (the same feeds that were already in use in 2014), we would know about a dramatic surge in killings through personal accounts, photos taken from car or bus windows, disturbing memes. If 993 murders were committed in a two-month stretch in Quezon City in 2014, social media must have been both complacent and complicit—because there was nothing on it that approximates what we see on our feeds today.

I know that someone has posted a comment on Panganiban’s Facebook timeline linking to a 2014 column by Star editor and columnist Marichu Villanueva, which attributes the figure to Interior Secretary Mar Roxas. But a single reference is not enough; a staggering statistic like 993 people killed in two months in one city alone would have been picked up by other news organizations, or indeed on the front page of the Star itself. But I cannot find any use of this number aside from Villanueva’s column—and now Panganiban’s post. We must conclude that the fact the redoubtable Villanueva published was erroneous.

In contrast, if we Google “993 crime incidents in Quezon City in 2014,” we find many references. Because as it turns out, that number— 993—was used by Roxas and the Philippine National Police chief at that time, Director General Alan Purisima, when they discussed a crime wave. On June 19, 2014, the Standard reported: “In Quezon City alone, 993 crime incidents were recorded for May—highlighted by the killing of seven people in a single day during a shooting rampage on Commonwealth Avenue—and 113 incidents in two weeks in June.”

So the number actually stands for the total number of crime incidents (likely, index crimes such as murder, theft, rape), not killings alone.

Last April, statistics on index crimes for the years 2010 to 2015 were released. In those five years, Quezon City recorded 961 murders and 966 homicides—a rate of just a little over one killed per day. Panganiban’s incredible (and credulous) claim of 993 killings in 61 days is equivalent to an average of over 16 killings per day.

Does my friend realize that not even in the worst days of the Moro insurgency did the casualty toll reach 900 in two months? (The International Crisis Group counts “at least 140 conflict-related deaths” in all of 2014, down from “at least 390” in all of 2013.) To casually repeat the lie that 993 died in one city alone in two months is to not understand the full weight of death itself; if it were true, we all would have known.

I can already see the rebuttal-in-progress. Someone will say that the PNP massaged the statistics during the previous administration, for image purposes. This is nonsense, and again can be disproved through all the resources at our collective disposal in the social media age. But let us argue for argument’s sake that the PNP did cover up the killings then. That only brings us to the pivotal question: If they broke the law then, why should President Duterte’s war on drugs be entrusted to them?

* * *

Our INQ&A interview program, cohosted by Inquirer.net’s chief of reporters Kristine Sabillo, has become a regular show. It airs on dzIQ 990 at 8 p.m. on Tuesdays, and is carried live on Inquirer 990 Television, on Facebook Live, on Inquirer.net, and on Inquirer social media. Last week, we had the surprise topnotcher of the 2016 Senate race, second-placer Sen. Joel Villanueva, as guest; tonight, it’s Sen. Leila de Lima’s turn in the hot seat. Please tune in.

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Filed under Newsstand: Column, Readings in Media, Readings in Politics

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