Fight for what's right: Filipino journalist and Pulitzer winner weighs in on PH drug war

This story was updated to include excerpts from The Source's interview with Manny Mogato.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 19) — After winning a 2018 Pulitzer Prize, Filipino journalist Manny Mogato of Reuters weighed in on the country's campaign against illegal drugs.

"Ipaglaban natin ang tama. Kung saan yung pinaniniwalaan nating tama, yung katotohanan, di ba?" Mogato told CNN Philippines.

[Translation: We fight for what's right, what we believe is right and true.]

Mogato, Reuters' Clare Baldwin and Andrew R.C. Marshall, recently won the Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting for their series "Duterte's War," which looks into the "bloody drug crackdown" in the country.

He credited the award to team effort and dedicated it to other Filipino journalists.

"The whole Reuters Manila Bureau helped in introducing those stories," said Mogato. "I would like to pay tribute to all Filipino journalists who covered the drug war -- especially sa gabi [those on night shift.]"

Reuters' series combines digital writing with data and multimedia graphics to show discrepancies in police operations. Among the stories are "Dead on Arrival," a report on a police modus that covers up deaths during operations by bringing dead bodies to hospitals; "Caught on Camera," a report using CCTV footage that went against a police account of a raid; and "The Davao Boys," about how the deadliest police station in Quezon City employs cops from Davao.

"Parang na-jolt 'yung mundo e [The world was jolted]... Hundreds of people are dying because of the anti-drug campaign of President Duterte. Why is this happening?" Mogato said.

"So to us, it is an important story na hindi mo pwedeng palampasin [that you can't let pass]. You really have to look into this, dig deeper, and find-out kung sino ba ang nasa likod [who is behind this]?"

But publishing these stories did not come easy for Mogato and his colleagues, as data from the Philippine National Police (PNP) was now harder to acquire even for those as simple incident reports.

"Lately nga, because of the order of General Bato (Dela Rosa), na yung documents, nagta-title sila na you have to go to Malacañang to get clearance," Mogato explained. "(Because) if you will look into the documents, madali mong mache-check kung ang namatay ay nakipagbarilan ba o hindi [you can easily check if those killed fired at the police or not]."

Mogato's team also had to endure online bashing, as well as receive thousands of hate messages every time they publish stories critical of the Duterte administration's drug campaign.

The Pulitzer winner added he had to change his name on Facebook to get rid of online attackers and trolls. He added he even received death threats, but dismissed it as "hazards of the trade."

"Sabi nga nila [They say], fake news, biased, bad journalism. But our evidence will speak for itself," Mogato said.

The face of the drug war

After heading the PNP for almost two years, outgoing PNP Chief Ronald Dela Rosa boasted of unprecedented numbers as a result of its anti-illegal drugs operations from July 1, 2016 to March 20, 2018, with123,648 drug suspects arrested and more than 2,600 kilos of shabu worth ₱13.46 billion pesos confiscated.

But government data also show 4,075 drug suspects were killed in law enforcement operations, with 2,476 deaths recorded outside of police mission, many of them victims of vigilante-style killings.

Human rights groups say the death toll is higher than official numbers, voicing concerns especially with the alleged extrajudicial killings.

Amid the outcry, the PNP was pulled out from the drug war in October 2017 and an investigation was launched on the spate of drug-related killings — some of them involving children. However, the PNP was ordered back into the illegal drug campaign on December 2017, with the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency still taking lead.

International group Human Rights Watch said Dela Rosa should answer to the drug-related deaths. They say the war on drugs targeted mainly "urban slum dwellers and resulted in the deaths of more than 12,000 men, women, and children by police and police-backed vigilantes."

In an interview with CNN Philippines' The Source, Dela Rosa said he is prepared to face possible charges after he retires on Thursday.

"I have the balls to face anything that you are going to charge against me. Bakit ko tatakbuhan ang responsibilidad na 'yan [Why will I run from the responsibility]?" Dela Rosa said.

But with incoming PNP Chief Oscar Albayalde about to head the police force, Mogato is not expecting much to change under Albayalde's leadership.

CNN Philippines' multi-platform writer Regine Cabato contributed to this report.