The professional reputation of a President is made or altered by the man himself. No one can guard it for him; no one saves him from himself…he is no mere office manager. On the contrary, everything he personally says and does (or fails to say, or omits to do), becomes significant in everyone’s appraisal regardless of the claims of his officialdom.
WHATEVER the national tourism slogan today, I feel obligated to report that it was not fun, indeed de-pressing, to wake up yesterday to the Manila Times headline that the Philippines is now a “narco- state.” The bearer of the earth-shaking news was no less the President of our republic himself – Rodrigo Roa Duterte.
Consider how he broke the news.
He did not do it during his second State of the Nation Address (SONA) last July 25, less than a month ago, where he could have spilled the beans in all their detail to all the members of Congress, the jus-tices of the Supreme Court, his Cabinet, and the members of the diplomatic corps.
Instead, DU30 picked as the occasion for his announcement his visit to the police station of Ozamiz City, where last July 30, a combined team from the Philippine National Police (PNP) raided the resi-dence of the city mayor, and killed other members of his family and members of his security force.
The drug war will continue
In a speech delivered during his visit to Ozamiz on Thursday, the President said the following, among other things:
He made a mistake in his assessment of the illegal drug trade in the country.
He asked: Are we or are we not a narcotic country? Yes, we are. I wouldn’t have known this if I had not become President.
I feel so bad about this because I realized I could not end this problem in six months. The police gener-als, the Bureau of Customs, the police are into drugs. So how can I succeed even during the whole of my term?
Look what happens when the drug trade is allowed to flourish. There is narco-politics. Was there ever an election here that was clean? You have seen how narco-politics works. It will only stop for a while and then resume.
I will continue the war on drugs. That is why I told the police and the military: Destroy the apparatus, the organization of the drug syndicates.
Laying responsibility on Aquino
Did the Philippines become a narco-state during the 12 to 13 months that Duterte has been in office?
The President did not say so. But he clearly suggested that the drug problem rose to humongous pro-portions during the time of his predecessor, Benigno Aquino 3rd, whose justice secretary, Sen. Leila de Lima, is now in custody for allegedly coddling illegal drug traffickers and the drug trade within the na-tional penitentiary.
Rhetoric of a different order
Duterte’s declaration that the Philippines is a “narco-state” is of a different order than his earlier statements about “killing”, “rape” and “sons of whores.”
This one belongs to a different realm of presidential rhetoric. It is an assessment of the state of the nation. It means to alert the nation to draconian measures to come, measures that will show how the government will resolutely eliminate the drug menace. It is a sign that the war on drugs will intensify further, which indeed it has already, as the killing of drug suspects has mounted in Manila and in the countryside.
When DU 30 declared after the killing of 35 drug suspects in Bulacan last week that he wanted the kill-ing of 32 every day, he set a new measure of progress in the drug war.
Saving DU32 from himself
I quoted above the passage from Richard Neustadt ‘s book, Presidential Power, to underscore the great importance of what the President says when he is in office, wielding the scepter of power. Pres-idential words have consequences, for good as well as for bad.
The litany of Duterte’s hit-or-miss declarations is so long, that his ardent supporters and friends should begin thinking about “saving him from himself.”
When Duterte absolves the police of wrongdoing in the drug war, no matter what the abuses, I be-lieve he is crossing a red line in constitutional government. It is dangerous to himself and to his presidency.
It is not explained away by protesting against due process of law and human rights.
The presidential rhetoric is both inflationary and demoralizing.
Believe it or not, the police profession is supposed to exercise intellectual leadership in the criminal justice system. The police must take the lead in the fight against crime and violence.
I was startled to discover that there appears to be no internal affairs division in our national police sys-tem. We fatuously look to the Commission on Human Rights for correctives to police abuses and hu-man rights violations, but in fact we do not have a commission that has been duly created by law.
We face today a bizarre Catch-22 situation. The bogus CHR welcomes the violations under the Duterte administration because they seem to justify its existence. Duterte and Bato de la Rosa also like the toothless and ineffectual CHR because it makes human rights irrelevant to police policy.