Filipino guillotine: The crusade against drugs and the backlash


I TITLE this piece “Filipino guillotine” to sound a warning that if we, Filipinos, do not wise up to what is happening in our country—state-sanctioned killings, crazy politics, corrupt generals—we could wind up without our democracy, our leaders, and even our republic.

I am haunted by the lesson of Italy, which went through an agonizing crusade to wipe out the mafia, organized crime and corruption and wound up with a monstrous national breakdown.

The shadow of the guillotine hangs over our public life, and politicians and men in uniform are as likely to lose their heads as drug lords and suspects.

‘Operation Clean Hands’ in Italy
The Italian campaign had an inspiring name, Operation Clean Hands. In 1992, the world watched in shock and dismay as an unfolding corruption scandal rocked Italy and brought down an entire political class. Beginning with a petty kickback in Milan, the investigation uncovered a network of corruption so vast it was immediately dubbed “Tangentopoli” or “Kickback City.”

It soon became apparent that the major political parties, especially the Christian Democrats and the Socialists, had colluded in illegal party financing. By accepting and, indeed, demanding bribes and kickbacks for lucrative state contracts, the political parties had effectively divided the spoils of state patronage among themselves.

The investigation, led by a group of politically committed magistrates in Milan, was named “Mani Puliti” or “Clean Hands.” Politicians who had governed Italy for decades fell from power while wealthy businessmen saw their economic empires collapse. Two-thirds of the Italian Parliament stood accused of corruption and at least 30 people committed suicide in disgrace (some under unusual circumstances).

One Prime Minister fell from power and was charged and convicted. Italy’s first republic was discarded and replaced by the second republic at the advent of the 21st century.

The Philippines is in danger of falling into the same quandary, if it does not correct quickly and competently the excesses and confusions of the anti-drug campaign.

(Disclosure: I got the idea for my title from a book on Italy’s experience by Stanton H. Burnett and Luca Mantovani; their book is titled The Italian Guillotine: Operation Clean Hands and the Overthrow of Italy’s First Republic (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 1998).

‘Operation Kill’ in the Philippines
Bearing in mind the lessons from Italy, I am fearful for all the personages who have taken frontline roles in the current crusade against drugs, crime and corruption. They should look up Robespierre’s “Republic of Virtue” during the French Revolution and its bloody trail.

But wait, some friends tell me, surely I want President Duterte’s crusade to succeed just like everyone. I most surely do, but I want the government to do the job right, using the law and its monopoly of violence to bring law and order to our country.

So I list here today some cautionary notes for various personalities involved to consider, in order to stop them from going over the edge:

1. I start with a paradox. If the killers of the drug suspects—be they cops or citizen vigilantes—will enjoy immunity (government protection), The Punisher (Duterte) will have no clothes. If people go unpunished for killing, he will stand exposed as not filling out his comic-book credentials.

Similarly, if Duterte was so confident about his expose on the five generals and the three top drug lords, why did he threaten to kill Peter Lim (the supposed lord of the rings) instead of arrest him? Why grant him a presidential audience and a media opportunity? With Peter Lim, he and his cops did not shoot first and rationalize later.

2. The loudest critic of the drug-related killings is clearly Sen. Leila de Lima, who has pledged to lead a Senate investigation of the killings once Congress convenes next week. Before she can be handed a committee to chair and an inquiry to conduct, she has mounted, a 24/7 media operation to keep herself and her proposed inquiry in the news.

The senator is surely correct when she says: “Extrajudicial or summary killing is homicide. Carried out premeditatedly and in conspiracy with other public authorities, it becomes mass murder…”

Sounds fine. But then she spoiled it by declaring that she will “fiscalize” the Duterte administration or serve as “fiscalizer” for the people.

Methinks the senator will have a more convincing case if she can do two things:

(1) produce an English or Filipino dictionary that lists or defines the word “fiscalize” or “fiscalizer.” It does not exist in the language where I breathe.

(2) show that she has clean hands in the illegal drugs trade, based on her record as justice secretary and chief jailor in our national penitentiary, which drug lords converted into centers for their drug operations.

Although the House under incoming Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez is scared stiff of even desiring an inquiry, some House members have voiced more cogent arguments for making the administration accountable for the drug killings.

Police power and effectiveness
When I wrote in this column on the state monopoly of violence (“The death penalty and state monopoly of violence,” Times, July 12, 2016), I was not endorsing the state-sanctioned killings in the anti-drugs campaign; I meant to underscore rather the great importance of control over police action in the campaign.

My continuing research has turned up authoritative information on the subject of violence monopoly and police action.

I quote the following from an illuminating article by Hendrick Hertzberg in the New Yorker: “Police power [as distinguished from military power]is something that is normally wielded within a state. Its effectiveness depends on monopolizing violence, but its legitimacy depends on non-violence—on subordination to a liberal democratic political structure with enforceable rights. (Without that subordination, the police function gobbles up the state, and the state becomes a police state.) The checks on the police function are political, not military—checks and balances, not balances of power.”

Note the warning about a police state.

Why so many generals?
I ask, in conclusion: Why do we have so many generals in our national police? Why do more advanced countries have only police commissioners and superintendents, and yet have more effective policing of their societies?

Why do we spend so much public treasure to train our young people in military science at the Philippine Military Academy, and then order them, after graduation, to do police work?

On second thought, I am all for the Senate inquiry, so these questions can be politely asked.



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  1. John D. Knox on

    You know, I’m sick of people who associate Duterte with the fictional ‘Punisher’ character: he’s nothing like Frank Castle.
    Was Duterte’s family murdered senselessly by drug lords? No. Does he hide behind his office to promote his agenda? Yes. Does he confuse addicts with dealers? Yes. Is his morality towards women reprehensible, therefore tarnishing any potential benefit? Yes.
    About the only thing these two characters have in common is the sad fact that others will most likely suffer for their actions. But the Punisher would have the decency to feel bad about this…

    Frank Castle would kill Idi Amin, not support him. Remember that.

  2. Roughly over 2150 days, or more than 72 months to go before the term of office for this Presidency is called off and replaced by another leader along the destiny of our nation. Still very premature to speculate on things that can come our way in the next time frame but this early, i think it is safe enough to take heed on what is unfolding so that we might as well be aware on where this National journey will take us in the long run. Essentially there are rules to be followed – the rule of law being foremost, as well as the intangible rules from immutable lessons of history – as what this brilliant writer has laid out on his entrance to the main issue.

    Throwback to the Martial Law era? That is a fallacy in terms of parallelism within the realms of our national history. There is no school for future leaders to any country and becoming one is 99% destiny. However, there is one training field for successful leaders to obtain the illusive 1% – and that is the ability to pass the test for truthful examination of the constant wake from where we lift off, so that a properly honed foresight can steer clear a significant distance in our national course.

    And if you find this absurd, i now quote from the late Joker Arroyo:
    “Woe to the uninitiated who chooses to be feeble and pathetic”

  3. napatay ang suspect dahil nanlaban. may karapatan ho ang sino man, even ung ordinaryong civilian na protektahan at ipag laban nya ang sarili nya. kung may question sa nangyari eh d mag file ng kaso at hinde magbunganga sa dyaryo. ilan ho ba ang percentage nung napatay laban doon sa mga sumuko ng matiwasay. mali naman ata ung analogy na dahil mahirap patay agad at dahil mayaman usap muna.

    ang mga general humihingi ng due process, pero may karapatan din ang pangulo na magsalita sino ang pinaghihinalaan nila na drug suspect o drug protector. pakitandaan na after nung announcement nagsagawa agad ng admin hearing (napolcom, dilg, doj) laban sa lima. doon sa admin hearing na yun ang tamang venuew para sila eh magclaim ng due process.

  4. Rizalde F. Laudencia on

    “Fiscalizer” . . . “fiscalize” . . . you’re right. So many Filipinos have been led to believe that there is such a word . . . like “votation” and “deputization.”

  5. Ang hirap magsalita, ang daming mali. Honestly, I do no understand what this writer is up to. Tulong ka na lang.

    • Reedvee Purdue Dacdac on

      You’re absolutely correct!

      Mahirap magsalita.

      Read ka muna. Don’t talk habang nagbabasa para hindi dadami ang mali!

      Political opinions need digestion. Hindi lang subo ng subo.

    • Why don’t you use Mirriam Dictionary so could understand fully well? Sorry naman, mukhang Du30 ka kaya ayaw mong mag comment!

    • You need to think & analyze “out-of-the box” the implication of extra-judicial killing / summary killings. Pag drug lord / narco generals – release, investigate & apply due process. Pag drug addict, pusher, reseller – arrest, shoot & kill agad – no due process. Ours is govt of laws not of men, so to speak.

  6. Danny Cascolan on

    XDRUGS DESTROYED THE LIVES AND TURNED MANY INTO DRUG ADDICTS. DON’t worry duterte ordered the police, civilian and rebels to kill them.

    ( e wasted na kc sila, ubos na pera, so kailangan ng new addicts uli..cguro malamang..sindikato nga naman, one stone three birds at natulungan pa mabura ang drug linkage ng mga politician kaalyado at sariling sindikato..pov)

    Yes Ate, if really it is a sincere national programme to address the problem realistically and not just for hypes for public propaganda and ratings, it is absurd to create more crimes and new criminals.

    Welcome crimes of the madman.

  7. Last I’ve checked with a police officer, the last PMA batch to be commissioned to the PNP was the class of 1992. Most of the young generals now are graduates of PNPA, the counterpart academy of PMA for police officers. Unfortunately, however, the top ranks in the PNP are held by the few remaining PMA grads, like Bato de la Rosa.

    Hi! Boo Hi!

  8. I think of only one solution, that is no bail on suspected drug pushers and drug lords. This will partially stop extra judicial killings. The problem is after getting arrested, the drug pusher will bail out and free again to conduct their drug trade.

    • if court don’t allow them bail, they can still transact business or cook shabu on their cells..WTF…digong has the better solution..kill them all…

  9. julio madiaga on

    if we, Filipinos, do not wise up to what is happening in our country—state-sanctioned killings, crazy politics, corrupt generals—we could wind up without our democracy, our leaders, and even our republic.

    throwback to the martial law era.

  10. A few people laughed when the thought that Rodrigo Duterte is intent on bringing into place a POLICE STATE. But to remind folks of how it was in the past months…. Even before D30 stepped into Malakanyang …. even during the campaign season, Rodrigo Duterte was emphatic that he will pursue extra-judicial means. And there were several instances that Rodrigo Duterte mentioned shutting down Kongreso-Pilipinas.
    … Abangan ang susunod na kabanata!!!!