The real number of the dead might never be known.
The Ateneo-De La Salle study is a very important contribution to the documentation of extra-judicial killings in Duterte’s drug war, but it is by no means a complete accounting of the number of those who were killed.
The PNP itself in its 2017 accomplishment report to the President puts the number of dead at 20,322, combining the number of those killed in police operations and so-called “deaths under investigation,” the PNP’s euphemism for vigilante killings committed by urban death squads. The PNP actually cites these numbers as accomplishments in the drug war that they boast to Duterte, thereby admitting that the work of the vigilantes is an integral part of the drug war.
Realizing the stupidity of citing death squad killings as accomplishments in the drug war, the PNP since then stuck with the lower number of those killed in police operations. The PNP is caught in an apparent bind. It has to report a high body count to Duterte to show him that the police are meeting his macabre quota on the number of drug suspects that must be killed. At the same time, they must likewise manipulate the data and lower the number of those killed, this time for the benefit of the public in order to get rid of the image of a blood-thirsty police force.
When the government itself manipulates the numbers, it is difficult to arrive at a definitive accounting of the dead. Despite this, comprehensive documentation and studies, such as the one conducted by the Ateneo-La Salle group, help us get closer to the truth. This will serve as one of the take-off points for an independent and complete reckoning of the people responsible for this dark chapter in our nation’s history. If not today, then in the future when justice reigns again in this land. ###