Last week’s absence seemed like a timely break to take from this column, if only because with less than a month to elections one can get overwhelmed by the mudslinging, and get carried away with the kind of shallow discourse that is on social and mainstream media, which apparently forms “public opinion” alongside surveys based on highly questionable practices – a free phone after the elections to respondents of a mobile survey, ano ba naman ‘yon!
I wish I had the age and the wisdom to be above this all. But with issues like the death of farmers in Kidapawan, and the crisis of drought; with China’s continued construction over at our islands in the West Philippines Sea, and EDCA allowing the US to build structures all over the country; with public infrastructure break down and unthinking development; with hunger and need, poverty and lack of justice, and the Lumad crisis – one is hard put to ignore the coming elections.
Because who knows: if Rodrigo Duterte’s supporters are correct, then the first thing he’ll do is close down newspapers that are critical of him, and silence (some say kill) media people who have taken a stand against him. Might as well use this space while I have it.
Duterte’s rise in the surveys and the ubiquitous presence of his social media supporters now turned more violent and offensive, was a surprise because I didn’t think this man who has thrown putanginas at the United Nations and Pope Francis, and who has spit on human rights as a concept, needed to be taken seriously.
We would like to think we are beyond questioning the most basic of human rights at this point. That is, I thought we wouldn’t need to go back to every man, woman, child’s basic right to life.
But alas, that is how low the discourse is. And it is fueled by the even lower blows one receives when one articulates any criticism at all against Duterte. It doesn’t matter whether you’re right or wrong, whether you make sense or not. A discussion is not going to be had.
You’re also going to be called names, and you will be threatened. They will dismiss you as a paid hack. Yes, it is as scary as it sounds.
And it is the pits to find that for these elections, we’re not only not talking track record of service and the feasibility of programs and platforms given the state of the nation. We are also being forced to deal with the most basic right to life, because Duterte has brought it down to that level.
You are of course forced to respond to these low blows, especially when you realize that many who support Duterte are from the educated classes – people who know about justice and fairness, right and wrong. And so it bears repeating: we all have the right to live, and that is a right that no government, no leader, can strip away from any citizen. Criminals are to be brought to justice, they are to be jailed and they are to suffer within the bounds of the law, which is to say they will live in the hell that are our jails.
And in the Philippines, given the state of our jails, that really only means allowing them to live out a slow death.
The macho script
Duterte is running on nothing but a platform of peace and order, and necessarily of impunity and violence given how he has carried out this platform in Davao City. Of course those who seem to stand as his consultants would like us all to see that the more important platform he is running on is federalism as a way to achieve peace in Mindanao.
But it is difficult to listen to someone talk about peace, when he has admitted himself that he bears arms and has killed 1,700 people before (May 2015). Even harder to take him seriously when he had warned us all that he will kill 100,000 people when he becomes President and throw their bodies into Manila Bay (May 2015).
Sure, it sounds all macho and exciting – very action star, if you will. But that is the crux of the problem: this is not a movie, and the time of action films has passed. I am convinced that we killed the action film because we realized that it espouses a false sense of heroism from stock characters who know only to kill in order to survive, who respond to adversity by firing a gun.
In real life, things are not that simple. Even in Davao City itself, Duterte will be hard put to prove that his peace and order program is one that has worked. In July 2005 he said in a crime summit that “the summary execution of criminals is the most effective way of crushing kidnapping and illegal drugs” (Manila Times, 7 May 2006). And as of 2015, neither kidnapping nor illegal drugs had been effectively crushed by Duterte in Davao.
The false promise
He had admitted that the first time he killed kidnappers was in 1988 (dzMM interview, Dec 2015).
The last reported case of kidnapping in Davao? Sept 2015 (Philstar.com, Oct 2015)
The Davao Death Squad assassinations of drug addicts started being reported in 2002 (PCIJ.org, Dec 2002). In December 2015, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) was still launching operations in Davao City against illegal drugs (SunStar Davao, Jan 16).
One would imagine that if this program for peace and order was truly effective that 27 years after the first time Duterte himself killed kidnappers, no one would dare kidnap anyone in his territory. The same goes for drug addicts: 13 years after the first reported DDS execution of drug addicts, Davao City Police were still collecting P22 million worth of drugs in the city (SunStar Davao, Jan 16).
That the more than 20 years of Duterte espousing summary executions and condoning extrajudicial killings has not produced a Davao City with no crime, is already proof of the falsity of this platform’s promise.
That Davao remains as one of the poorer provinces in the country also proves that this platform of peace and order has not done much as far as delivering social services or alleviating poverty are concerned. According to most recent official statistics, Davao has a 25.5 percent poverty incidence rate (NSCB.gov.ph, April 2015), where one in every four families is considered poor (MindaNews, Mar 2014).
We might enjoy what we’re hearing from this man, but it is also all spin at this point. Because he might not be some haciendero or American girl, but all that he spews at this point is part of the macho script of false heroism that feeds the fantasy of a new nation.
Sounds familiar? Why, yes. Just like history, dictatorships repeat themselves if we let them.