After the apparent rubout of Albuera, Leyte, Mayor Rolando Espinosa, President Rodrigo Duterte must now shift his anti-drug war to non-violent strategies. Otherwise, his public support would begin eroding, and that would give his opponents the opening to make headway in their effort to oust him.
With the brazen impunity evident in the Espinosa liquidation, even more indefensible killings could happen, putting Duterte in the losing game of justifying deaths which more and more Filipinos see as plain murder. And if there’s one thing the people don’t like, it is being made to believe a pack of obvious lies.
Now, even senators supportive of Duterte are set to investigate the death of Espinosa and his fellow inmate Raul Yap. That means the National Bureau of Investigation has to do an unblemished job in its own probe of the double homicide.
And one can bet that any more seemingly blatant rubouts would fall under even more searing spotlight, with President Duterte unable to defend the police without condoning, if not supporting uniformed murderers.
The diminishing tolerance for suspicious killings comes just when the camp of former president Benigno Aquino, possibly with tacit support from foreign entities unhappy with Duterte, could be intensifying its anti-Duterte moves.
Senator and former Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, who has been reaching out to church groups appalled at extrajudicial killings, just filed a Supreme Court petition to stop President Duterte and the government from gathering information on her private life and issuing public statements allegedly maligning her.
The Liberal Party itself has named a new acting president, Senator Francis Pangilinan, who may then try to rebuild the LP’s image and clout by capitalizing on growing public disquiet over the anti-drug deaths, now nearing 4,000, amid Duterte’s unrelenting threats to wipe out narco-offenders.
And now, even former president Benigno Aquino 3rd has emerged from public silence since turning over power on June 30. He has expressed hope for a fair investigation of Sen. de Lima, and confidence that she would hurdle the cases against her. Aquino has also repeated his longstanding opposition to the burial of the late president Ferdinand Marcos in the Libingan ng mga Bayani, which Duterte has allowed.
Crack down on crime and contraband
The good news is the bloody anti-drug campaign has largely achieved its main strategic objective: shock and awe to stampede hordes of drug traffickers and users out of the nefarious trade.
Despite Duterte’s threat to fatten Manila Bay fish with 100,000 corpses of drug offenders, killing most of the millions of narco-violators was never the goal of his campaign.
Such an unprecendented and unconscionable carnage would have surely triggered nationwide outrage, if not an armed reaction by forces unwilling to commit murders on such a demonic scale.
No, the war on drugs aimed to dismantle nationwide narco-networks wholesale mainly by shock and awe, which led hundreds of thousands of pushers and users to surrender.
And after several thousand dead and tens of thousands arrested, plus the naming and shaming of narco-linked politicians, police and judges, those still want to do or deal in drugs are drastically slashed.
Moving forward, President Duterte should now remove permanently the crucial pillars of the narcotics trade by prosecuting the most egregious narco-politicians, and stanching the smuggling of drugs.
He may wish to consider offering officials linked to drugs a way out by confidentially confessing their sleaze in exchange for non-prosecution as long as they don’t repeat. If they do, then their admissions can be used to convict them.
Bottom line: The emerging narco-state that expanded to unprecedented size under Aquino should be uncovered, broken apart, and never allowed to rise again.
On contraband, Duterte’s move last week against an alleged grafter in the Bureau of Customs is a long-overdue start, but one head rolling hardly scares an agency long infested with a culture of corruption.
Two must-do measures against smuggling: institute the risk management system which curbed illegal trade while facilitating legitimate shipments, especially under Ramos-era Customs Commissioner Guillermo Parayno; and investigate the 2011 disappearance of more than 2,000 cargo containers, the biggest spate of smuggling in the country ever.
With proper risk management, suspicious cargo would be thoroughly inspected, including container x-rays, whose images can be shared with the PNP, the NBI, and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency.
And probing the vanished containers would expose the links and modus operandi among criminal syndicates, smugglers of guns and drugs, and high officials in the top echelons of the past administration, including the narco-linked official described by President Duterte as higher than then-Sec. de Lima.
From drugs to jobs
Besides cracking down on the smuggling and narco-politics feedling syndicate crime, a third measure already cited by many is the rehabilitation and productive employment of hundreds of thousands of drug users and pushers driven from the habit and the traffic.
Plainly, if they can’t get alternative livelihood, they may again turn to narcotics — or worse. The talk among the Chinese Filipino community is that kidnapping for ransom or extortion is up, though victims are keeping mum. And other syndicated crime may well escalate after recent declines due to the anti-drug war.
Families and communities should also be harnessed, both in bringing in those still using or pushing narcotics without no violence, and in helping surrenderees move from drugs to jobs.
In sum, President Duterte must ensure that the jail killing of Espinosa and Yap leads to a new largely bloodless phase of his anti-drug campaign. Otherwise, the flood of more blood could well wash away the hunters along with the hunted.