EMULATING President-elect Rodrigo Duterte’s oft-announced policy of a relentless and unforgiving war against crime, some local mayors are launching their own self-styled Dirty-Harry campaigns to rid their jurisdictions of criminality.
Among them, no one has called more attention to himself and his campaign than Tanauan Mayor Antonio Halili, in Batangas.
Halili has launched what he calls “the walk of shame” to punish and shame seven people suspected of peddling illegal drugs in Tanauan.
He has paraded the suspects through the town as a form of punishment, confident that the embarrassment would cause them to forever mend their ways.
We like the efficacy of this kind of punishment. There’s one big problem, though. This may be against some laws against cruel and unusual punishments, etc. Like his idol Mayor Duterte, Halili has apparently cut corners around the law. His walk of shame could look to others, especially lawyers and human rights militants, more like kangaroo punishment.
The seven suspects he paraded in the widely publicized walk have not yet been proven guilty of the crimes or charges attributed to them.
A pro-poor and human rights group, the Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (Kadamay), which we have praised in this space for its stand, has accused Halili of conducting a mere PR stunt. There is no legal basis for the shaming. And the walk targets people who are poor and helpless against the local authorities.
Kadamay said in a statement: “This type of punishment does nothing to address the sources of criminality, some of which are extreme poverty which forced them into criminality, and criminal syndicates or networks that exploit poor Filipinos for their criminal activities.”
Human rights advocates say that Halili, instead of taking arbitrary action, should give way to due process and safeguard human rights.
They aver that Halili should instead focus on going after outlaws who orchestrate drug-related activities, and assist in the jailing of public officials who pocket billions of public funds.
This is facile criticism that in effect urges the authorities to do nothing.
The more important question is how local governments and jurisdictions can assist and participate effectively in a serious nationwide campaign against crime, when incoming President Duterte finally launches it.
We believe that a national anti-crime campaign will only be successful if there is sustained and zealous effort at both national and local level. Without national leadership, the campaign would lack direction and resolve. Without local and grassroots support, the campaign could become unpopular with the public.
In all probability, Mayor Halili was encouraged to turn to gimmickry and publicity-seeking by President-elect Rody Duterte’s widely liked talk about shooting crime suspects and dumping their bodies into the Manila Bay. The copycat from Tanauan probably also wanted to catch media attention.
Sanity and good sense will characterize the anti-crime effort if everyone will remember two things.
The campaign will find popular support if it is framed as a program to institute discipline and order in society:
1. It will lose support if it violates rights and is dominated by a lot of Dirty Harries.
2. We are a nation supposed to be governed by the rule of law.
Mayors and law enforcers are bound by the law just as much as the criminally inclined.
Mayor Halili is on the same boat as President-elect Mayor Duterte. They do not make the law. They both must follow the law—though they are allowed to talk tough to scare criminals.