JUST when people expected President Rodrigo Duterte to shift the focus of his war on drugs from killing unshod suspects who were reportedly “resisting arrest,” to going after the big drug producers, manufacturers, financiers and mega distributors who have not at all been touched, he now calls on the Armed Forces of the Philippines to join the “war” that has made the killing of “nobodies” the staple of our daily lives. How the AFP will respond to this is the first real challenge to the new Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Eduardo Ano, who assumed his office on Wednesday, presumably with an unclouded view of the distinction between the work of the military and that of the police.
Describing the Philippine National Police as “fractured,” DU30 said the reason he had earlier declared a state of lawlessness was so he could call on the military to help the police clean up the narcotics mess. So now he is making that call. This was his first tacit admission that something had gone terribly wrong with his war on drugs. He and his men had previously called it an astounding success and had reacted strongly to all criticisms about its apparent methods and objectives.
Since July 1, over 800,000 users have surrendered, and over 5,000 have been killed while reportedly resisting arrest. The most ghastly case involved the late Mayor Rolando Espinosa of Albuera, Leyte, who was killed at four o’clock in the morning inside the sub-provincial jail of Baybay, Leyte, by a contingent from the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group in Tacloban, who had reportedly come to serve him a search warrant. The NBI has called it a rubout, but DU30 has declared that those who had participated in the killing would not go to jail for it.
DU30 has been applauded by the masses from the time he produced a list of alleged drug dealers and vowed to go after them until the last drug lord was killed. The applause got stronger when he cursed US President Barack Obama, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and the leaders of the European Union for asking some questions about the killings. And when he announced his military and economic “separation” from the US, and his aligning with China and Russia “against the world.” Such courage, such spunk! But the applause has begun to fade.
Moral revulsion and outrage rising
The sense of moral revulsion and outrage from the community and even from the police has grown and is growing. Among the young policemen there is some deep questioning about the morality of killing. This is especially so among those who have tried to bring in as many drug users as possible for detention and rehabilitation, only to be told that the chief implementor of the drug war would like to see more dead bodies, not merely useless users.
Because of this, more and more young policemen have applied for schooling in order not to get involved in the killings. Police sources say there are more policemen applying for schooling than at any other time before, and those who are already there are in no rush to complete their schooling.
Their effort to find a “crevice in the rock,” as it were, where they could hide their heads while the storm blows, appears to find encouragement and support in their elders, usually retired policemen who happen to be their fathers or friends of their fathers.
In policemen’s families, the father who is a retired policeman talks to his former colleagues, fellow retired policemen who, like him, are fathers to young policemen, about their fears and concerns. They bond together and worry about their policemen-children being sucked into crime. There are many such families, many such fathers, and many such sons. And they are now afflicted with the moral fever that could yet turn the war on drugs upside down.
The AFP chief of staff must decline
DU30’s call on the AFP to get involved in the war on drugs will not solve the police problem. And it will create constitutional and other problems. DU30 misreads everything when he says that since both the AFP and the PNP are directly under him, he could order them to do anything he wants. He cannot. He has to abide by the Constitution. This provides different roles for the two organizations. The AFP is the protector of the people and the State. Its goal is to secure the sovereignty of the State and the integrity of the national territory.
The PNP, on the other hand, is the police organization that is national in scope and civilian in character. Its principal function is the maintenance of peace, law and order. The police are tasked to prevent and solve crime; the task of the military is to destroy the nation’s armed enemies in war.
One should not be confused with the other. I hope DU30 rethinks his “decision” to involve the military in his drug war, and I hope he will not take it against Gen. Ano if he confesses his constitutional inability to comply with the President’s desire.
Putting more guns into the war on drugs is not a solution. A deep moral issue has caused the PNP to fracture, in DU30’s own words; he must consider a moral solution. What so many young men in the PNP have shown by their moral revulsion is that there remains a deep reservoir of morality and strength in the organization; it is for DU30 to build on it rather than try to destroy it altogether. They do not want to turn the PNP into an organization of killers.
The PNP command circular
I have revealed in a previous column that PNP Command Memorandum Circular 16-2016 dated July 1, 2016 makes the “neutralization of illegal drug personalities” the central objective of the PNP anti-illegal drugs campaign project “Double Barrel.” The memo does not define what “neutralization” means. But in military and police parlance, it means the elimination of a threat or problem. DU30 considers illegal drugs as a serious threat, and has decided to eliminate it through his war.
So “neutralization” of illegal drug personalities means killing them. The NBI statement that the Espinosa killing was a rubout and the President’s unfortunate statement that none of the policemen involved would go to jail for it confirm our analysis. The PNP memo circular is unconstitutional and void, says our lawyer-public advocate Manuelito Luna. So is the President’s statement. But the PNP memo circular and the President’s instructions are the only sources of the PNP’s marching orders.
PNP Investigative Directive No. 2016-12, issued by the PNP Directorate for Investigation and Detective Management on July 22,2016, reiterates the protocols of investigation and sets the guidelines to be followed in case of armed confrontation. All armed incidents should be recorded, investigated and reported to ensure full documentation. There is, however, no evidence that the killings have been documented at all. Even if they had been, this would not constitutionalize the memo circular, which is unconstitutional, Atty. Luna points out.
Milking the chat with Trump
Since last week, DU30 and his men seemed to have been led to believe that they could go on with the drug war as before, despite the rising internal clamor against the killings. This appeared to be the outcome of his seven-minute telephone conversation with US President-elect Donald Trump who, according to him, had wished him success in his drug war and assured him of non-interference from the Oval Office during his watch. Malacanang tried to milk that conversation to full advantage, printing out a transcript in the process, and freely quoting from it, hopefully with Trump’s prior consent.
But what is the net worth of this propaganda blitz? Next to nothing. Trump begins his presidency on Jan. 20, 2017. Until then, no one can say in what direction he is going to take the US and the world. Will the US maintain its present course in a unipolar borderless world, or will it keep itself exclusively within its borders, while a multipolar world frolics beyond its reach? Until this becomes clear, DU30 will not know where and how to position himself, given his announced decision to separate economically and military from the US, and to align himself with China and Russia “against the world.”
Should the US turn isolationist, and DU30 maintain his declared pivot, they would have no point of conflict, since they would both be left to their individual selves. But should the US maintain its present course, DU30 will still have to deal with it, whether he separates from it or not. If his drug killings continue, he cannot expect Trump, just because of his friendly promise not to intervene, to campaign against human rights abuses everywhere else and then to make a U-turn when it comes to the Philippines.
John Kennedy set the guidepost in 1961 when he said, “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and success of liberty.”
In wishing him success in his drug war, Trump has to be taken within the proper legal context. A recent open letter of Bicol Bishop Joel Baylon for the clergy, religious and lay leaders of the Diocese of Legazpi provides the proper context. The letter wished the President success in his war on drugs, but expressed serious reservations about the killing of mere suspects. Continued killings would not spell success but failure.
Coffee with Trump
Because of Trump’s reported invitation for “coffee” at the Trump Towers coffeeshop on Fifth Avenue, next time DU30 is in New York, he now calls him a “friend.” This is so much better than calling Obama “the son of a wh****.” But the case of Ronald Reagan and Marcos is perhaps more instructive.
Despite his deep friendship for Marcos, which continued even after the latter had fallen, Reagan could not help his friend at all after everyone else had concluded the time had come for him “to cut and to cut clean.” This scenario need not be repeated, but should it ever recur, Trump could end up very much like Reagan.
To repeat, this need not happen. But DU30’s apparent resolve to impose a culture of death upon Filipinos could be his open grave. Not content with the drug killings, he wants his rubberstamp Congress to railroad the death penalty, the lowering of the age of criminal liability from 15 years to nine, the three-children per family limit, etc.
Ethicists, moral philosophers, theologians and bishops, including my good friend Bishop Emeritus Jose C. Sorra of Legazpi, have pointed out that the death sentence, while permissible under exceptional circumstances, should never be used as a regular sanction. And it should never ever be permitted in a country where the rule of law is so flawed that policemen, fiscals, lawyers, witnesses, judges, justices, and jailers could be so corrupted against truth, justice and the peace of their souls.
Since these are death proposals that are as grave as those that require the revision of or amendment to the Constitution, these must be legislated directly by the people, if possible, or at least by those who have earned the trust of the people. The present Congress has not. It is nothing but an appendage of Malacañang. It has no mind or honor of its own. It cannot, and must not, legislate on anything in the name of the Filipino people.