SEN. Leila de Lima is at a loss. Why, she asks, are most Filipinos silent about the thousands of suspect killings in President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs? Because of this, she laments, the nation faces a human rights crisis.
She muses in a speech read for her yesterday by fellow opposition Sen. Antonio Trillanes 4th, that “there seems to be a quiet sentiment that bad things are happening because the victims deserve it.”
“More precisely, it bothers me that there does not seem to be enough clamor against the killings that have been committed thus far—both from ordinary Filipinos, and also from key institutions,” she added.
“Those being killed were our fellow citizens, why are we not bothered?”
Actually, Filipinos have expressed grave concerns. Take outgoing Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines president Archbishop Socrates Villegas. He has spoken against the killings and threats as far back as last year’s election campaign, going so far as to subtly call on Catholic voters not to choose Duterte.
Archbishop Villegas and other critics of the anti-drug killings reflect the moral perspective of many Filipinos, who do not condone wanton killing.
Indeed, in a Social Weather Stations survey last December, nearly seven out of every 10 respondents felt the problem of extrajudicial killings was serious or somewhat serious. Even more—78 percent—were very or somewhat worried that they or a family member may become an EJK victim.
So, why aren’t people speaking up? One big reason is Leila de Lima.
Huh? How did the internationally celebrated opponent of Duterte’s war on drugs be the cause of Filipinos clamming up about narco-suspect killings? Let me count the ways.
People fear crime more than EJKs
First, while Filipinos find police and vigilante killings of drug offenders wrong, they may also feel using less force and more due process would only allow the hoods to win.
And the dismal performance of the criminal justice system in the past administration—where then Justice Secretary de Lima was a leading figure—is the main reason that many Filipinos feel they need to resort to extreme force to stop crime.
Under then-President Benigno Aquino 3rd, crime tripled from 324,083 incidents in 2010 to more than a million a year in 2013 and 2014, going by the Philippine Statistics Authority’s Philippines In Figures data yearbooks.
Murders doubled to more than 9,000 a year, and rapes topped 10,000. Robberies exceeded 60,000, and physical injuries 200,000.
Drugs also shot through the roof, boosted by smuggling, which also trebled, from $7.9 billion in 2009 to $26.6 billion in 2014, based on International Monetary Fund trade figures. Even Aquino decried the flood of contraband guns and narcotics in his 2013 State of the Nation Address.
Pro-Aquino media largely ignored or covered up this explosion in lawlessness and sleaze, but victims of crime and their close family and friends knew firsthand how grave the crime wave was.
For the citizenry, the purportedly squeaky clean Aquino regime and its claim of democratic respect for human rights, could not stop the murderers, rapists, robbers, kidnappers, pushers and addicts.
So, when the mayor who stopped the hoods in Davao offered to do the same for the country, Filipinos gave him a landslide victory, despite his lack of a massive campaign fund and a nationwide political network.
Three months into Duterte’s rule, a September SWS poll showed that nearly nine out of 10 Filipinos were satisfied with his anti-drug war, despite that mounting body count. Other surveys indicated that people felt safer, and the Philippine National Police reported that overall crime fell around 30 percent.
And de Lima is wondering why Filipinos are not raising hell to stop the violent war on crime and drugs, so that the country can go back to the righteous days of due process, over which she presided as justice secretary. Go figure.
Exploiting the rights issue
The other reason de Lima may be giving pause to Filipinos who may wish to denounce drug killings, is the partisan and even destabilizing agenda of her camp, which may be seen as exploiting the human rights issue.
That was certainly how Vice President Leni Robredo came across when she sent a video on alleged EJKs to a United Nations conference. It cited wrong data on killings, erroneously disseminated by a pro-Aquino news outfit, which refused to make corrections after the PNP pointed out the mistake.
Filipinos were not only dismayed by the embarrassing misrepresentation of the country. The video also stirred moves in Europe to threaten sanctions and to probe and prosecute Duterte.
One can understand why our countrymen may not want to be part of such a campaign which could undermine the President and the Republic.
As for de Lima, while her stint as chairman of the Commission on Human Rights during the Arroyo administration may buttress her advocacy against EJKs, her partisan and allegedly corrupt actions as Aquino’s justice secretary cannot but raise doubts.
After all, her pork barrel probe, seen by many as targeting opposition leaders, hardly speaks of impartial justice (indeed, the CBCP branded the whole enterprise “selective justice”).
Nor did her investigation of ailing former President Gloria Arroyo over claims of cheating in the 2007 senatorial elections, acquit her well. It had none of the required documentary evidence, like tampered ballots and returns, and the sole witness was a principal accused in the 2009 Maguindanao massacre of 56 people, who admitted testifying in exchange for immunity from prosecution.
De Lima’s motives looked even more suspect when she was charged for allegedly allowing and profiting from the Bilibid drug trade, as shown by sworn testimony and even video of illicit money changing hands. People may understandably wonder if she is fighting Duterte on behalf of the drug lords.
So, Madame Senator, if Filipinos don’t join you in lambasting Duterte’s bloody campaign against drugs, don’t look all around for the reason. Just face the mirror.