By Tracy Cabrera
IN 2018, the Philippines was dubbed as the deadliest country for journalists but an international survey conducted by the Washington-based Gallup Global Law and Order 2020 Index says that the archipelago is one of the safest countries in the world as its citizens feel secure and have confidence in the country’s police force.
Local rights groups, however, found the results ironic, considering the questionable record of the Philippine National Police (PNP) that spearheads the Duterte administration’s ongoing war on drugs.
According to Gallup, the Philippines ranks 12th among the 144 countries surveyed in 2019. It was tied with Australia, New Zealand, Poland and Serbia with an astonishing 84 percent. Singapore and Turkmenistan ranked highest in the law and order index with 97 percent, followed by the People’s Republic of China (93 percent), Iceland and Kuwait (93 percent). War-torn Afghanistan ranked last with 43 percent.
Overall, the Gallup study said that nearly seven in 10 people worldwide said they felt safe and had confidence in the local police.
“In most economically developed countries with strong rule of law, the majority of residents say they feel safe walking alone in their areas at night. This response is nearly universal in Singapore and tops 80 percent in many Western European countries. The same is true for more highly state-controlled countries,” the study noted.
As in previous years, people in Latin America and the Caribbean were “least likely” to feel secure in their communities. Southeast Asia also slightly ranked higher than the United States and Canada.
According to the study, the index “provide(s) a baseline for how the world will respond to the challenges that have surfaced during ensuing crises, including those related to law enforcement in the US and elsewhere.”
For local human rights groups in the Philippines, however, the results were not surprising given the prevalence of law enforcers in communities since the start of Duterte’s drug war. Human Rights Watch senior Philippine researcher Carlos Conde said the survey was in no way “an endorsement” of the way the police conducted the drug war nor could it be interpreted as an exoneration of their abuses since 2016.
“When you have high police visibility and presence, of course people will feel safe. This is also consistent with statistics from the police that the crime rate has been going down,” Conde said in an interview.
But the Gallup study “does not negate the fact that police conduct during the ‘drug war’ has been abusive, resulting in the deaths of thousands since 2016 and practically zero accountability. Moreover, (most) of the victims of the current administration’s ‘drug war’ had been demonized thoroughly and so the public at large (have) no sympathy for them.”
Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay expressed the same sentiment and said that any framework in gathering public responses to such issues “must always integrate the rights-based approach and framework to provide a more holistic analysis on such responses.”
“In countries like the Philippines, (confidence) in law enforcement in addressing crime and security issues is not a mere yes or no question, especially if the indicators are not placed in context,” Palabay pointed out while adding that the survey should have included the complexities of police presence and impunity among its indicators.
In conclusion, she stressed as a warning that “narratives bereft of such frameworks may be unwittingly used to justify human rights violations in the name of ‘security.” (ia)