Philippines to UN: Reports of extrajudicial killings based on 'alternative facts'

Story highlights

  • Philippines' senator tells UN the war on drugs has not led to a spike in extrajudicial killings
  • The reported numbers are due to changing definitions, says Cayetano

(CNN)A staunch ally of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte told the UN Monday there has been no sudden wave of killings as a result of the nation's controversial war on drugs.

Senator Alan Peter Cayetano told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva that reports to the contrary were based on "alternative facts" -- a term first coined by senior Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway.
Cayetano said traditional media was no longer a source of news and information, and that "alternative facts" regarding Duterte's war on drugs had been spread by the opposition, reported widely locally and then "repeated by the Western media."
Since he came to power in June 2016, controversial strongman Duterte has faced widespread condemnation from human rights groups who claim he is inciting extrajudicial killings and stripping potential victims of their right to a fair trial.
Cayetano said that killings under previous administrations in the Philippines varied "from a low of 11,000 to a high of 16,000 per year," and a change in the definition of extrajudicial killings (EJKs) by the Philippines' Commission on Human Rights had deceived the public.
"There is no new wave of killings in the Philippines, just a political tactic of changing definitions," Cayetano said, adding that the "real number" of homicide cases since Duterte took power was 9,432 -- including 2,692 deaths from law enforcement operations that were presumed to be legitimate and were automatically investigated.
The latest estimates of the number of deaths related to the drug war run as high as 8,000, based on figures released by the police and independent counts by human rights groups and media organizations.
"Make no mistake, any death or killing is one too much," Cayetano told the UN review of the Philippines' human rights record. "However, there is a deliberate attempt to include all homicides as EJKs or killings related to the campaign against criminality and illegal drugs, and that these are state-sponsored, which is simply not true."

The 'real numbers'?

Last week, police in the Philippines also defended the country's ongoing war on drugs and accused international media of overstating death tolls.
During a forum in Manila, police played videos of former drug users, dealers and the victims of drug-related crimes, hailing the benefits of the drug war, with many saying they now feel safer in formerly crime-infested cities.
An accompanying social media campaign called for the public to "know the real numbers" related to the drug war with the hashtag #RealNumbersPH.
The discussion was quickly dominated by pro-Duterte voices critical of the international media. As of March, 75% of Filipinos surveyed said they were satisfied with Duterte's performance.

'City of the Dead'

CNN has reported extensively on the human cost of the drug war.
In October of last year, the Philippines Senate Committee -- led by a Duterte ally -- decided to scrap an inquiry investigating the alleged extrajudicial killings of drug dealers and users.
The decision put an end to the investigation into the deaths of people reportedly killed by suspected vigilantes in the months after Duterte swept to power promising a "relentless" crackdown.
After winning the election, Duterte encouraged citizens to use deadly force against drug dealers. "If he fights, and he fights to the death, you can kill him," he said.
Santo Niño, a neighborhood in metro Manila, has been dubbed the "City of the Dead" as a result of the dramatic rise in murder rates and the shocking way some of the killings have taken place.
"I buried my son in the grave that was meant for me," Ricardo Medina told CNN.
His son, Ericardo, was stabbed numerous times and his face wrapped in packing tape, a grisly tactic common among the thousands of alleged vigilante killings that have taken place since Duterte took office.