Context is the most difficult thing to provide when a gut issue is being discussed. The Philippine National Police tried. PNP spokesperson Jean Fajardo said thefts have increased by 8.42 percent and robbery by 0.49 percent, but contextualized things in this way: “We were expecting an uptick in these cases because we have eased out quarantine restrictions … but the rest like physical injury, murder, carnapping, homicide went down.”
She was responding to media interest in the PNP chief’s assertion that there’s no ongoing crime wave. What there is, he argued, is hype. The hype was certainly there, egged on by officials ranging from the President’s sister, Sen. Imee Marcos, to the President’s own secretary of the interior, Benhur Abalos, both of whom asked the PNP to look into online rumors (as an Inquirer report summed it up) “that a serial killer and gang members using a white van were behind several reported cases of murders and other crimes.”
According to Rodolfo Azurin Jr., the new PNP chief, “In our analysis of crime data, it is apparent that the peace and order indicator—or the sum of both index and nonindex crimes—has decreased by 45.24 percent in [President Marcos Jr.’s administration].”
He also said that crimes went down 5.85 percent during the term of President Rodrigo Duterte compared to President Benigno Aquino III. Then again, only six months ago, during the Duterte administration, then-DILG Secretary Eduardo Año declared that the country’s crime rate had dropped by 73.76 percent in the first five years of Duterte’s term.
The Inquirer itself more conservatively compared the total number of crimes (index and nonindex): there were 15,651 in June, Duterte’s last month in office; there were 30,802 in July, Mr. Marcos’ first month in office. On the other hand, in June, the PNP solved 82.33 percent of crimes, while in July, it solved 86.13 percent.
The stampede back to school and the accelerating pace of people reporting back to their offices provide more than ample opportunity for petty crime to take place. And there is an ever-increasing incentive for crime: hunger.
Social Weather Stations (SWS) reported in its most recent self-rated poverty numbers that 48 percent of Filipino families feel poor: but in truth, the percentage should be far larger. Marit Stinus-Cabugon zeroed in on a finding of SWS to explain why: while the self-rated poverty threshold is “the minimum monthly budget self-rated poor families say they need for home expenses in order not to consider themselves poor,” that threshold “has remained sluggish [moving slowly or not at all] for several years despite considerable inflation. This indicates that poor families have been lowering their living standards, i.e., belt-tightening.” Even as things cost more, people are making do with less.
So, we have a situation where the petty criminals have, once again, a population on the move to prey on; what is different, perhaps, and leading to debate, is whether there is also an escalation in major crimes. The confession of a vlogger, recently, that she faked her own attempted kidnapping, and an appeal made by the police in Cebu, points to a new phenomenon: fake allegations of serious crimes for the purpose of gaining social media clout. So, the atmosphere is being polluted, to a certain extent, by fake news. But it is an atmosphere that the self-rated poverty and simple reality of inflation and supply-chain disruptions tell us has had a dire effect on the income of a great number of Filipinos.
This is the context, that, to a certain extent, the PNP was trying to provide. But what has gotten people debating the question of crime is tied to fake news: the proliferation of social media postings talking about “Tatay Digong” in a manner nostalgic for his handling of crime. Is this, as they say, an organic phenomenon, or a fault line in the ruling coalition being deliberately widened? Grisly as it sounds, an answer may lie in the government’s so-called “war on drugs.” The President, shortly after taking office, said it would be “as intensive as before.”
The UP Third World Studies Center has a Twitter account, @DahasPH, which has been consistently keeping tabs on the killings. Its most recent figures add up as follows: in 2022, there have been 200 drug-related killings, 51 of them since the present administration began (this includes 13 “body dumps”). Reviewing the weekly count, the killings ranged in low single digits except for the week of the President’s first Sona, when 14 were killed, numbers hardly different from Duterte’s last month in office.
When it comes to official statistics, our society has a simple point of comparison: personal experience. Every citizen who has been victimized by a pickpocket is a walking refutation of official statistics: to themselves and other citizens. The police themselves have provided the context to the rise in petty crime; it can point to apprehending suspects in recent heinous crimes like rapes. What the government cannot answer is whether the hype is being hyped up.