Since July 1, some 4,000 suspected drug dealers have been killed. Most of them, while allegedly resisting arrest. Fearing for their lives, some 700,000 drug users have surrendered to the police. For them prison is the safest place. This too was what Mayor Rolando Espinosa of Albuera, Leyte, apparently believed when he turned himself in last August after President Duterte linked him to the drug trade. He denied any involvement, said it was his son Kerwin who was involved; and the authorities caught up with the young man in Abu Dhabi last October. But last Saturday, the mayor was killed inside the sub-provincial jail in Baybay, Leyte, under circumstances that would have been completely ludicrous were the murder not so foul and tragic.
Espinosa was killed inside his cell at 4 o’clock in the morning, while reportedly resisting a search warrant being served by agents of the Philippine National Police Ciminal Investigation and Detection Group, Eastern Visayas. He was shot four times and died on the spot. It was perhaps the first time in law enforcement history that the police tried to serve a search warrant at an ungodly hour on an individual who was already under police custody, and whose personal effects had already passed thorough screening by his jailers. The incident has so scandalized the nation that the Senate, the NBI and the PNP are all eager to investigate and even DU30’s most rabid media defenders are screaming about the government’s irresponsibility and incompetence.
Will Espinosa be the last?
However it appears that Espinosa was not the first one to be killed inside his cell while allegedly resisting arrest. A former high official says he had read earlier of a similar incident, except that he could not recall the exact details of the incident. But he said he was “101 percent sure” that he had read such a report. Not having read the report myself, I can only take his word for it. But his fear is that it might create a new police practice. The Espinosa killing may not be the last. From breaking into prison cells to serve search warrants, the CDIG could start breaking into private homes, with search warrants or without, to go after their pre-designated targets. This is the rule of force asserting itself; it should not happen, but the rule of law could be completely silenced.
What the more perceptive drug war watchers see in the Espinosa killing is a hitherto unseen face of DU30’s war on drugs. It is an ugly one. Unlike all the other usually unshod victims killed by the police and the so-called vigilantes in the slums and on the streets, Espinosa was an elected and well-connected officeholder. His killers apparently believed he possessed valuable information about highly placed individuals involved in the illegal trade in Eastern Visayas and maybe beyond. Perhaps something like Harry Stonehill’s infamous blue book containing names of politicians involved in corruption.
They apparently feared that the disclosure of the explosive material could bring down yet undisclosed personalities. They had to get their hands on the material by means of the alleged search warrant. This was the reason he was liquidated, together with his inmate Raul Yap, apparently a collateral casualty. But he was rubbed out, according to these drug war watchers, not to put an end to the drug menace, but rather to protect the multi-billion peso drug business itself.
Eliminating the competition on drugs
What these analysts and observers are saying is that contrary to the official line that the summary killings are intended to go after the drug dealers to the last drug lord, they are simply meant to eliminate the “competition” to the “approved” illegal drugs traders. Proof of this, according to these analysts, is that no large narcotics laboratories have been raided and put out of business by the police. Neither have the suspected large narco syndicates been touched.
One suspected laboratory in Luzon was reported to have been raided, but only after those running it had removed all incriminating evidence before they themselves pulled out; two suspected laboratories in Calabarzon and Maguindanao have remained untouched. As for the narco syndicates reportedly operating in the country, only the most insignificant one, out of nine reported syndicates, appears to have attracted the attention of the authorities.
The analysts believe the Philippines remains a major transshipment point rather than a manufacturing center of illegal drugs, and that China remains the main source. They said they were hoping President Duterte would seek Beijing’s official help in staunching the flow of narcotics into the country during his recent China visit. However, although China promised substantial aid in establishing drug rehabilitation centers in the Philippines, there was no indication DU30 had taken up the drug supply issue in his conversations with President Xi Jingping.
China drugs flowing to the Philippines?
To the contrary, some anti-drug authorities have expressed concern that drug runners in China could transfer some of their manufacturing operations to the Philippines, even as the Chinese government provides help in setting up drug rehabilitation centers in the country. The first Chinese-supported drug rehabilitation facility is reported to be going up soon in Fort Magsaysay, Laur, Nueva Ecija, where some US forces are also stationed under the US-Philippines Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA). The other rehabilitation centers could be located in the other camps in Visayas and Mindanao, where parts of the EDCA forces are also encamped.
In a world and an age in which not everything is what it seems, DU30 should exert every effort to assure us Filipinos about the real objective of his war on drugs——given the concern expressed by various governments, institutions and individuals around the world about the rash of summary killings. The public should be able to see, without the shadow of a doubt, that his only objective is to rid the country of this most dreadful menace, not just to eliminate one type of criminals whom the people in power have no business dealings with. There should never be the slightest suspicion that the President has any pretensions of imitating the kingpins of the Medellin drug cartel, who try to eliminate every other drug runner in order to control the trade themselves.
Can we stop the dictatorship?
DU30 would be well advised to show the nation, once and for all, that in Davao City, for starters, which he ran as mayor for 24 years, and which his children are running today, there is no evidence of any narcotics trade involving his immediate family, distant relatives or friends. Any rumors to the contrary must be squelched and exposed as malicious and false. But the more serious and sinister suspicion remains. Namely, that he has authorized the summary killings—-and police commanders are given quotas of dead bodies to count per week—-not only to force drug suspects to surrender to the authorities, but more importantly to silence public criticism and dissent on any issue, whether related to the war on drugs or not, and allow DU30 to talk like Louis XIV—-“I am the state.”
There is enough evidence to support this thesis and it is now an accomplished fact. The entire Congress has become a rubber stamp, the social media overpopulated by trolls, the regular mass media neutered and defanged, and the business and economic elite determined not to incur his wrath. Without declaring martial law like Marcos, or a revolutionary government like Cory Aquino, DU30 has mounted his own dictatorship on the corpses of those he had allowed to be killed without due process, in the name of fighting illegal drugs.
His communist Cabinet colleagues have given us a road map of where they intend to take us. And Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco is reported to have started looking at the pros and cons of declaring a revolutionary government. But after only four months into DU30’s six-year presidency, his original supporters are beginning to yawn and show fatigue. DU30 says he is determined to save the country from the colonial oppressions of the past. This appeals strongly to our nationalists. However, the question which more and more people are now beginning to ask is this: who will save us from the follies of this dictatorship?