WE deplore the mentality of lawlessness and vigilantism exhibited by Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte at the Philippine Senate the other day.
We are glad that the President’s Office, the Philippine bishops and several human rights activist organizations made their voices heard condemning the Davao mayor’s despicable words.
“If this guy would go to Davao and starts to unload (smuggled rice)… I will gladly kill him,” Duterte, who is proud of being nicknamed “The Punisher” by his fans, told the Senate on Monday. He was referring to Davidson Bangayan, also known as David Tan, who has been arrested for being a large-scale rice smuggler and perhaps the rice smuggling kingpin in our country.
While we want Bangayan/Tan and all other smugglers to get the heaviest punishment they deserve for enriching themselves by ruining the Philippine economy and adding to the hardships of our farmers, we also want the rule of law to be observed in every way. Mayor Duterte’s threat to Bangayan/Tan is an immoral, illegal and sinful invitation to our countrymen to ignore the rule of law and employ criminal means to achieve good ends.
Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines President and the Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan Socrates Villegas, reminded the people that killing is against the Ten Commandments. He said the sin of killing can be done, as all sins, “by thoughts, words and deeds.”
Villegas urged the government to act not just against rice smugglers but also to make sure that the rights of people accused of illegal acts are not violated. “We all have the rights and so we should not suspend the rights of these accused persons for any reason,” he said.
Malacañang deserves praise for coming out against Duterte’s declaration.
“Killing a person is against the law. The President has been firm in the belief that no one is above the law. We must not resort to extralegal methods,” Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said on Tuesday.
This was not the first time Malacañang upbraided Mayor Duterte for being too precipitate in his desire to rid the world of criminals. In July last year, he gave an order to his police force to shoot-to-kill the criminals tagged as kidnappers who had engaged the police in a shoot out. The Palace stopped his order from being carried out, telling him that it was illegal.
Human rights activists and groups in the Philippine and abroad, outraged by Mayor Duterte’s words, warned he was abetting the country’s culture of impunity.
This culture is what makes people in power, whether officially or as private warlords and businessmen vigilantes, dare kill persons they believe have done them wrong. They kill journalists exposing corruption and human rights activists exposing abusive police and military men.
US-based Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have been reporting for years that hundreds of petty criminals, including children, have been summarily executed by the so-called “Davao Death Squads” linked to local officials—including Mayor Duterte.
He denies any involvement. Human Rights Watch said in a 2009 report that he had openly supported the death squads.
Carlos Conde, the Philippine-based researcher for Human Rights Watch, said Tuesday Mayor Duterte’s latest comments showed him to be an “incorrigible human rights violator. He cannot be allowed to get away with these threats. Given his history in Davao, it would be foolish to dismiss all this as an empty threat.”
The CHR plan to charge him
As her job requires her to do, Commission on Human Rights Chairwoman Loretta Ann Rosales condemned Duterte for uttering his murderous words.
“His statement, made in the halls of an institution that makes laws, encourages this culture of impunity,” Commission on Human Rights Chairman Loretta Ann Rosales said. She also said that her office would see if it could initiate a criminal charge against Mayor Duterte for “issuing grave threats.” A person found guilty of committing that crime can be imprisoned for up to six months.
However, it is not easy for the CHR to have the Davao mayor indicted. He is widely admired for his zealous law-enforcement posture. It is possible that no prosecutor would agree to file the charge against him.
Fans all over the country, specially people in Davao City, adore Mayor Duterte for his vigilantism, which they say has rid the city of criminal gangs.
In social media, perhaps as many Facebook and Twitter users have praised Mayor Duterte for promising to kill Bangayan/Tan as those who have condemned him.
This issue makes us wonder what has happened to the Law Enforcement Code of Ethics that officials are supposed to follow.