A SIDE from the summary drug killings, which, according to TIME magazine, have now reached 1,800, President Rodrigo Dutertes problems have been the result of careless words rather than concrete official deeds. In his first two months in office, he has talked through the oftentimes mindless and undiscriminating media, using inappropriate language to bludgeon some of his more unwelcome critics.
These include the Ambassador of the United States, the UN rapporteur on summary executions, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and the chairperson of the Senate committee on justice and human rights. He apparently enjoys the thunder of his expletives, and their effect on the media and the public, and has not noticed their apparent overuse.
He has apologized to the Chief Justice for his rash statement threatening Martial Law if the police were required to produce warrants before going after drug suspects. He has assured the UN that his threat to withdraw from the world body because of its “meddling” in the summary killing of drug suspects was nothing but a poorly delivered “joke.”
But he has refused to apologize for calling the US ambassador a “gay…son of a bitch.” And he remains locked in a propaganda war with Sen. Leila de Lima on her current Senate inquiry into the drug killings on the one hand, and on the other hand her alleged involvement in the drugs trade at the New Bilibid Prisons when she was still Secretary of Justice.
Public opinion appears split between DU30 and de Lima at this point, but unless he has her formally charged with actual drug dealing, (assuming he has evidence that will stand in court), his continuous exposé on her supposed involvement in the drugs trade, including her alleged “sexcapades,” will end up being treated as blatant propaganda, and there will be no valid reason for anyone to demand that she terminate her ongoing inquiry into the drug killings by the police.
Moving past the drug killings
Clearly, there is need for DU30 to move past the drug killings, and past the use of invective and foul language to deal with nay-sayers, skeptics and critics. If the war on drugs is to continue, and many believe it should, serious effort must be exerted to go after the producers, manufacturers, financiers and mega-distributors of drugs, rather than just the petty pushers in the slums and the ghettoes. The war on drugs must also expand into a war on other crimes—smuggling, illegal gambling, prostitution, money laundering, human trafficking land grabbing, etc.
But first of all, the summary killings must stop. Since none of the killings could still be undone, the government must make sure that those guilty of any unjust killing are prosecuted and punished under the law, and the victims properly remunerated and indemnified. Beyond this, the government must create an adequate rehabilitation program to address the case of the 700,000 or so drug users who have surrendered to the police. The accent must shift from the killing of drug suspects to the rehabilitation of drug users, who are not necessarily criminals but unfortunate addicts.
They are not necessarily blameless for their own conditions, but they need help, more than punishment. The government must recognize substance abuse not necessarily as a crime but rather as a disease—one that can be treated and cured. As one medical doctor says on Facebook, the government must show its belief that human beings, imperfect as they are, are redeemable until their very last breath, regardless of how they had lived their lives. The current war on drugs provides the government the opportunity to show this.
DU30 must metamorphose now
In keeping with his promise to “metamorphose” from a caterpillar to a butterfly upon his assumption of the presidency, DU30 should now transition, with finality, from the rustic candidate who thrilled his audiences with the vulgar speech of the barroom, the dockyard, the cockpit or the fish market, into the people’s President who needs no vulgarities to lead 102 million Filipinos toward an unobstructed view of the future that lies ahead.
Although 22 years of being mayor of Davao City may have kept him away from cosmopolitan society and the familiar norms of diplomacy, he is a highly intelligent man who needs no rigorous mentoring to adapt to the conduct and discourse of the presidency. Where Talleyrand saw Napoleon as one so highly intelligent yet so poorly educated, I see DU30 as both highly intelligent and educated, except that he sometimes seems to want to play the clown or the buffoon, at his own expense. In Cabinet meetings, he has been photographed bowing in mock obeisance to Leni Robredo, the Vice President.
It’s time for him to be much more serious about the Presidency.
Drug critics not the real enemies
The first thing he needs to do is to have a clear-headed view of the forces that support and the forces that threaten his government. The threat to his presidency is not coming from those who are telling him the summary killing of drug suspects is wrong, and that there is a better policy. Amnesty International is not wrong when it describes the summary killings as “lawlessness” rather than crime control, and recommends an independent commission to handle human rights abuses committed by the police and vigilantes in the anti-drugs campaign. In the Marcos era, the Church-Military Liaison Committee was tasked to look into such abuses, and did a fairly creditable job of monitoring and reacting to reports of forced “disappearances.”
In one particular instance, however, the Committee just lost track of a Jesuit priest and a religious sister. They just disappeared one day, and despite persistent denials, the Marcos government was blamed for their disappearance. A few years later, they surfaced in Utrecht as a couple. After 1986, I had occasion to participate in a conference on forced disappearances in Singapore. I was in the company of experts, including a Filipino bishop who continued to have strong feelings about Marcos. After I spoke about the couple, the conference chair asked the bishop: “Did the religious community know that the couple had gone to Utrecht?”
The bishop replied, “Yes, of course.”
Why then did you not make it public, instead of blaming the government?”
“We did not want to help Marcos,” the bishop said.
Something similar to that committee may be considered by the present government.
But certain threats seem to lurk in the shadows, probably unrecognized by the new government. I had a sense of this after former Senator Juan Ponce Enrile and I appeared at a “Kapihan with Samahang Plaridel” at the Manila Hotel last Monday morning. We were asked questions on the war on drugs and the Marcos burial at Libingan ng mga Bayani.
Enrile was most emphatic in supporting DU30’s war, saying the President was simply discharging his constitutional duty of providing order to protect the citizens. He said DU30 had every right and duty to use the police and the armed forces, if necessary, to suppress lawless violence. On the Marcos burial, Enrile and I agreed that under the law, there should be no obstacle to Marcos’ remains being finally interred at the Libingan. Duterte himself has expressed full support for it.
PNoy’s hidden hand
Enrile and I faced a battery of ten to 12 unblinking TV cameras during the interview, which lasted more than one hour. But someone who monitored the media play after the interview, even up to the next two days, failed to see a slice of footage of our taped conversations. We had been thoroughly censored. Normally, one suspects the government to be behind any such censorship, especially when the content of the taped material is critical of the government.
In this particular instance, our views on the issues coincided with those of the government. There was absolutely no reason for Malacanang or any of its agencies to black out this particular material. A source close to the Palace has revealed that a pro-Aquino group operating under former Budget Secretary Butch Abad was responsible for the operation.
The same group is reported to be behind rallies against the war on drugs staged yesterday in front of the Philippine embassy in Washington, D.C., and the Philippine consulates-general in New York and San Francisco, as well as a plan to stage rallies in front of the Philippine embassies and consulates abroad on Sept. 7, protesting the burial of Marcos’ remains at the Libingan. The Supreme Court has temporarily deferred action on the burial, at the instance of several oppositors. The Court said it needs a little more time to study the matter.
The law on the burial is very clear, but a lot of extraneous matters have been introduced into the discussion.
Among them is Republic Act 10368, otherwise known as the Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013, enacted without public debate during PNoy Aquino’s term in 2013.
This law punishes as a violation of human rights any search, arrest and/or detention without a valid search warrant, including any warrantless arrest or detention during Martial Law, from Sept. 21, 1972 to February 25, 1986, by persons acting in an official capacity and/or agents of the State… It appears to be an ex post facto law, meaning “a law passed after the occurrence of a fact or commission of an act, which retrospectively changes the legal consequences or relations of such fact or deed.” (Black’s Law Dictionary).
There is no move to declare this law unconstitutional, but unless this was done, the next administration could enact a similar law against DU30.
These are some of the things DU30 should think of even now. But what’s happening on the international front—both in terms of diplomacy and the media—deserves his utmost attention. His projected trip to Laos, Brunei and Cambodia next month offers him the opportunity to see that there’s a much bigger world beyond Manila and Davao, where one need not shock and awe to make a point or create headlines.