IT is a crying shame when something good happens to a man and he fails to see it for what it is and misuses the opportunity altogether. This, I fear, could be what’s happening to President Rodrigo Duterte right now. Nineteen world leaders from Asia, Oceania, North America, Europe and the United Nations met in Manila earlier this month and in a gratuitous statesmanly gesture withheld any statement on the widely condemned drug killings. DU30 misread this as tacit approval of what they did not condemn. So, he has now decided to resume the police operations which had resulted in thousands of drug suspects killed, expressing dissatisfaction with the short period that the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) was in charge of the drug war and reported no killings.
It would seem he failed to appreciate the generosity shown to him. None of the world leaders were known to support the killings; some of them had publicly condemned them. But knowing of his restricted vocabulary and mercurial temper, they decided not to risk the agenda of the meetings, nor court the fate of former US President Obama, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions Agnes Callamard, some unnamed European leaders, etc., who all got verbally mauled for expressing their concern about the killings.
In the bibilical narrative about the woman caught in adultery, the crowd that was supposed, under Mosaic law, to stone her to death failed to do so after Jesus said, “let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” One by one they went away, and when our Lord asked the woman, “Has no one condemned you?,” she answered, “No one.” And he said to her, “Go and sin no more” (cf. John 8:7).
The analogy is less than perfect. But DU30 must have felt the same personal relief after the world leaders decided not to talk about the killings. Many therefore hoped he would use the silence of the world leaders as an opportunity to declare the carnage is over, that the war against illegal drugs will continue, but not the lawless killings.
This would have shifted world attention from the slaughter of drug suspects, which had begun to look like some kind of social cleansing, to the earnest pursuit and apprehension of big drug lords and the destruction of large drug supplies, exported from China, the Golden Triangle or elsewhere.
PDEA vis-à-vis PNP
Until the PDEA took over, the police and the masked vigilantes seemed solely focused on killing drug suspects in slippers in the ghettos and the streets. Under “Operation Tokhang,” the police and the vigilantes entered private homes and killed suspects, without due process or adequate documentation. Anywhere from 7,000 to twice that number had been killed, according to various groups monitoring the killings. But not more than a few have been charged with any killing, in violation of law and standard legal procedure.
The only notable exceptions are the killing of Mayor Rolando Espinosa of Albuera, Leyte, which happened inside a subprovincial jail at 4 o’clock in the morning, and which the National Bureau of Investigation had called a “rubout,” and the killing of the 17-year-old student, Kian Loyd de los Santos, in Caloocan City, whose cold-blooded murder was witnessed by many on closed circuit television. But the charges against Espinosa’s killers had been downgraded from murder to a less serious crime, and we have not heard the latest about an earlier announcement to replace the entire Caloocan City police force with guys from Davao.
No one has been charged with anything on the P6.4 billion illegal drug shipment from Xiamen, despite the preponderance of evidence against the parties involved. This was by far the biggest haul in DU30’s anti-drug campaign, and a Senate inquiry has identified the various personalities that had a stellar role in the shipment. DU30’s own son Paolo, the vice mayor of Davao, has been dragged into the scandal, and accused by Sen. Antonio Trillanes 4th of carrying the tattoo of a Chinese Triad member during a Senate hearing. Customs Commissioner Nick Faeldon was forced to resign at the height of the scandal, but a complaint against him was recently dismissed by the Department of Justice after some preliminary investigation.
As public outrage over the killings, particularly of minors in Caloocan and elsewhere, began to peak, DU30 decided to transfer the jurisdiction over the drug war from the PNP to PDEA, which under the law has the actual jurisdiction over the problem. Within one month or so, PDEA conducted over 1,300 bloodless operations in which sizeable stashes of illegal drugs were confiscated, but only two individuals—one drug suspect and one PDEA agent—were reported killled.
But instead of this record being recognized as a success, it was deemed a failure for failing to instill at the grassroots the same fear engendered by the killings. More and more people have since felt free to express their true feelings and honest opinions about the President and his government. More and more men and women have found the courage to say the so-called “revolutionary government” and inverted federalism, which DU30 and his surrogates like to talk about, are utter nonsense. DU30’s alleged popularity rating has also begun to slip, as the paid propaganda pollsters were compelled to be a little more honest in their so-called surveys.
As the “reign of terror” began to fail, DU30 decided to put the police back on the job, after dismissing the Dangerous Drugs Board head, Gen. Dionisio Santiago, a former AFP Chief of Staff, whom he accused of crimes and indiscretions he obviously did not commit. Santiago’s unpardonable mistake was that he said DU30’s 10,000-room mega drug rehabilitation center in Fort Magsaysay, Nueva Ecija, reportedly funded by a wealthy Chinese businessman, was a big mistake; that the money could have been spent on much smaller community-based rehabilitation centers spread throughout the country. So far, fewer than 500 drug patients have been admitted to the mega rehab center, according to reports.
Some military sources, however, suspect the mega center was built purposely to house political inmates who would be arrested and detained, should DU30 ever embark upon his so-called “revolutionary government.” Despite self-assurances that DU30 would not oust himself as a constitutionally elected president and declare a “revgov,” many analysts believe that given the character of the man, it could not be completely discounted.
DU30 must have hurt severely from Santiago’s criticism, for not content with letting him go as DDB head, he went out of his way to accuse the former AFP chief of staff of having misused his office by allegedly going on foreign junkets, in the company of an alleged mistress, and of receiving a house from the late Ozamiz City Mayor Reynaldo Parojinog, who was killed with 15 others in a police raid on his residence last July.
On the alleged mistress traveling with Santiago on a foreign junket, it turned out that Santiago did travel with his wife once to attend a conference abroad, but he personally spent for her trip. He has denied having a mistress. Assuming he had one, many believe DU30’s reaction to it was completely out of character and smacked of double standards. When the admitted mistress of Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and that of Davao Rep. Tonyboy Floirendo had a public spat in the House of Representatives, DU30 came to the defense of the adulterous Speaker by asking the question, who doesn’t have two or more mistresses?
At the gala dinner on the 50th anniversary of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), DU30 could have asked his daughter, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte Carpio, to act as his First Lady (like Vicky Quirino who acted as First Lady to her widower-father President Elpidio Quirino), and co-host of the gala. Instead, he allowed his “partner” Celito “Honeylet” Avancena to do the honors. Never in the history of the presidency has this happened before. So, why the extreme harshness on Santiago for allegedly doing what he, the Speaker and members of Congress do?
As for the alleged gift of a house from the slain Mayor Parojinog, it turned out that another Santiago—a police general Leocadio Santiago, to whom Dionisio Santiago is not related—has a well-known relationship with the mayor’s daughter, Vice Mayor Nova Princess Parojinog, and reportedly got a house from him.
Both charges therefore have no basis. But coming from the President, they have a serious defamatory effect on the subject. It is not easy for the average citizen to believe the President is capable of spreading libelous information or fake news against somebody who has given so much of himself to his country and people. A well-known brother of the former DDB head says the President owes the general and his family a public apology, and are eagerly awaiting it.
The trouble is, DU30 seems to have a longstanding grudge against the DDB. His first quarrel was with the previous DBB head Benjamin Reyes, who incurred his ire by claiming there were 1.8 million drug addicts in the country. DU30 said there were 4 million addicts, not fewer. No one knows the basis of his claim, and Reyes quit before he could dispute it. No one knows exactly how many addicts and drug traffickers are still out there, but there seems to have emerged a general consensus that killing drug suspects again and again will not solve the problem.
Will the stones speak?
DU30 stands against this apparent consensus, so he has decided to call back the hounds of PNP Chief “Bato” de la Rosa to go after them. The ultimate purpose is not to cut off the supply of drugs, which the Chinese Triad and other syndicates guarantee, but to keep the people in mortal fear of what the police can do should they resist manipulation or control. Since the police are being brought back for their demonstrated capacity to terminate drug suspects, without any significant effect on drug trafficking, it is safe to assume, as Asia’s deputy director for Human Rights Watch Phelm Kine has said, that more blood will flow.
My fear is that if and when this happens, the Sphinx-like silence of the titans during the last Asean and other summits, could break like a mighty dam. Even the stones will speak, and so will every great and small power which had chosen to be silent until now.