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.