Duterte gov’t allows ‘drug war’ deaths to go unsolved

Category: Best data-driven reporting (small and large newsrooms)

Country/area: Philippines

Organisation: Rappler

Organisation size: Small

Publication date: 14/01/2019

Credit: Lian Buan, Rambo Talabong, and Jodesz Gavilan

Project description:

The story presents for the first time the number of drug war-related killings that have been investigated by government prosecutors and are being tried in court. The numbers, which came from the Department of Justice, are dismal, and belie the government’s claim that they are investigating each and every death from the war on drugs. 

Interviews reveal a systematic gap in prosecuting the deaths, as both cops and prosecutors pass the buck, leaving thousands of cases go unsolved. The investigation reveals a breakdown in the institutional process that leaves the kin of dead with little to no chance of justice.

Impact reached:

The story underscores what human rights lawyers say is a massive breach of a mandate of prosecutors to always be on top of killings. As the government denies accountability in the killings, this investigation charges them with failure in the administration of justice. 

It also touches on a core legal issue surrounding Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs – is the Philippines able and willing to prosecute the killings with its own system, or does the International Criminal Court have jurisdiction?

Techniques/technologies used:

The data was sourced from the Philippine National Police and the Department of Justice. We mostly used Datawrapper and graphic tools such as Photoshop to visualize the data through maps and charts.

What was the hardest part of this project?

The story made use of statistics that have not been reported, therefore getting the data from the source was the hardest part of this project. It took months, countless letters, and unending follow-ups from various government agencies and sources before they approved our data request. The data was sourced from the Department of Justice and were correlated and contextualized with each other and via interviews with different authorities. Confronted with the conclusion of our analysis, they quickly passed the buck. These are all happening at a time when the administration is seen to be trying to cover up the mess that comes with the violent anti-illegal drug campaign, so we really had to be careful with our requests and the numbers that we had.

What can others learn from this project?

In dealing with a recalcitrant government, data requests will take time – despite the existence of a Freedom of Information (FOI) mandate. Lots of patience and perseverance are also needed in constantly reminding concerned government agencies about requests, including types of legal documents or executive orders that support the right to requested information. ​

Another lesson here is the importance of viewing controversies in different ways. The drug war of Duterte has been ongoing for almost 3 years, reminding us about the importance of the public not turning a blind eye. We decided to focus on what the government does to show accountability over the drug war killings and to check on whether local justice mechanisms are still working. The answers were discouraging.

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