How could Davao City be safe when it has death squads? This was my thought when the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported on May 10, 2015 that Davao was the ninth safest city in the world. So, I Googled to see if this report was accurate, and found a CNN report on world’s safest cities, published on January 30, 2015. CNN’s source was The Economist, and strangely enough, the report didn’t mention Davao and other Philippine cities.
I didn’t bother to research further until I learned that many people were using the PDI report to promote Davao City mayor Rodrigo Duterte, who was still rumored to be running for president. A promotional video about Duterte and Davao City came out on Facebook on May 28. It mentioned the PDI report stating Davao City is the ninth safest in the world.
So, I read the PDI report again, this time carefully, and noticed that PDI was using figures from a website called numbeo.com.
Numbeo describes itself as “the world’s largest database of user contributed data about cities and countries worldwide”. User-contributed means any reader can send information to Numbeo. My first impression then was Numbeo is similar to Wikipedia when Wikipedia was still new. But Numbeo is “mentioned or used as a source by many international newspapers and magazines including BBC, Time, The Week, Forbes, The Economist ….” So, I thought perhaps Numbeo’s data about Davao City was accurate.
Still, on June 2, 2015, I sent an email to the founder of Numbeo, Mladen Adamovic. I did not ask him about the reliability of the data, but pointed out that the data could encourage human rights violations in the Philippines: “… Are you aware of allegations that Davao City has death squads -- groups engaged in extra-judicial killing? … It is possible your inclusion of Davao City in the list of safest cities may encourage extra-judicial killings.”
Note that Adamovic didn’t write that the data could have been altered by mistake, although mistakes could occur. He used a strong word instead: maliciously.
Days after I received Adamovic’s email, Davao City’s ranking in Numbeo list of safest cities rose to fifth then fourth in June 2015 and finally first in July 2015. Online newspapers reported this “breaking news” and many Duterte supporters were delighted. But in November 2015, two criticisms about the Numbeo reports appeared online. One was a Facebook post by Sean de Dios. The other was a column by former socioeconomic planning secretary Solita “Winnie” Monsod. Monsod wrote "it is not true that Davao is the safest city in the world."
I have no record of Duterte reacting to the statement of Monsod. But the following story is well-known. On December 11, 2015, former interior secretary Mar Roxas, citing police report, said the claim that Davao City is the safest in the world is a “myth”. Two days later Duterte said if he meets Roxas he would slap him. Roxas countered by suggesting a fist fight. Duterte then said why not a gun duel instead?