Why call Duterte's anti-drug campaign a 'war'? – UP professor

MANILA, Philippines – Should journalists continue to call the government's anti-drug campaign as a drug "war" in their reports?

University of the Philippines professor Clarissa David raised the question during the "War on Drugs: Looking Behind the Numbers" forum which tackled the media coverage of President Rodrigo Duterte's "drug war." 

Speaking to human rights advocates and reporters covering what has been called as the "war on drugs," David pointed out that calling the campaign a "war" makes the killings that come with it more acceptable to the public.

"Remember that the drug policy was only a drug war when the government called it a war and it is really up to the news media to decide if they will adopt that framing or abandon it. Because when you call it a war, there are certain things that people are more willing to accept," David said.

"They are more willing to accept casualties. They are more willing to accept people being killed. They are more willing to accept a high body count," she added.

The UP professor stressed the strength of language in molding public perception of issues, in this case, the anti-drugs campaign which has claimed thousands of lives. (READ: PDEA chief wants PNP to drop the term 'Tokhang')

How should the "war on drugs" be called then? David did not roll out a list of terms for newsrooms to follow, but during her talk, she repeatedly referred to it as a "campaign" and a "policy.”

Just by the government's own count, more than 4,000 drug suspects have been killed in the campaign, all presumed by authorities to be suspects who simply "fought back.– Rappler.com

Rambo Talabong

Rambo Talabong covers security, crime, and the city of Manila for Rappler. He was chosen as a Jaime V. Ongpin Fellow in 2019 for his reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.