By John Ezekiel J. Hirro

Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Thursday blasted Malacañang officials for dismissing its report on the increase in drug war deaths during the Covid-19 lockdowns.

In a Sept. 8 report, HRW’s Carlos Conde stated that anti-drug operations from April to July killed 50 percent more people than the previous four-month span.

Data from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency’s monitoring platform #RealNumbersPH were used in the report, which found 155 persons killed in the past four months from 103 from December 2019 to March 2020.

Palace denies

Two Palace officials questioned the HRW report.

Palace spokesman Harry Roque claimed human rights watchdogs including HRW often fabricated reports for government attention.

“Alalahanin po natin ang Human Rights Watch, ganiyan talaga ang trabaho ng mga human rights groups, mag-ingay para iyong mga gobyerno e pakinggan sila. Pero hindi naman ibig sabihin na lahat ng sinasabi nila ay gospel truth,” he said.

Palace communications chief Martin Andanar said the report presented “gross distortions” of the Philippines’ drug situation.

“We denounce the attempt of the [HRW], through its writer Carlos Conde, to present anew gross distortions of the situation in the Philippines with the article ‘Killings in Philippines Up 50 Percent during Pandemic,'” he said in a statement.

“The article has weak methodological anchor, and severely falsifies realities in the country,” he added.

Andanar claimed the Duterte administration had prioritized human rights amid the pandemic. He cited results of the Gallup global survey, where the Philippines ranked in the upper echelon of governments with the highest confidence ratings from their citizens.

“We reject sweeping allegations of state-sanctioned extra judicial killings that have resurfaced with unfounded allegations and… ask the HRW to avoid the use of unqualified and unverified data and conclusions derived from flawed methodologies and drawn with ideological blinders,” he said.

‘Report was based on gov’t data’

Phil Robertson, HRW’s deputy Asia director, stood by the legitimacy of data cited in the report, saying they were government numbers.

“It was not hard to find this information. The analysis is based on the official government figures published by #RealNumbersPH, which is issued by the Presidential Communications Operations Office based on figures coming from different government agencies involved in the ‘war on drugs,’ mainly the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency,” he said.

Robertson pointed out PNP chief Gen. Camilo Cascolan recently reported that 77 people died monthly from January to August this year. #RealNumbersPH data, meanwhile, showed only 38 people dying monthly from April to July.

“If anyone is playing games with the numbers, it is the Philippines government,” he said.

“It’s frankly absurd to disparage Human Rights Watch’s analysis while failing to provide any evidence of any factual mistake on our part,” he added.