FOR a whole year, President Duterte regaled us with the tale that the battle for the nation’s future is between him, the warrior President, and the drug lords, against whom he must wage unrelenting war.
For a year also, most Filipinos have scurried for cover, getting out of the way so DU30 will succeed. He declared at the beginning, that in three to six months, he will finish off the drug menace. Now one year later, he comes forward to say that six months is too short. He misjudged the problem. It can’t be finished even if we allow him his entire term to do the job. The drug problem is that bad.
False picture of national situation
This narrative cannot stick, because it is fundamentally a false portrait of the national situation. Only presidential obduracy insists that drugs are the biggest problem facing the country today. The drug agencies have not been able to validate the President’s claims.
In the course of the year, the government’s war aims have escalated, and major setbacks and tragedies have happened in the war, notably the murder/kidnapping of a South Korean businessmen, and the murder inside a jail cell of a Leyte town mayor. I thought mistakenly that these sensational killings were the straw that would break the back of the drug war. They did not.
The number of dead, including the so-called extra-judicial killings (EJKs), has been so high and random, the Philippine National Police (PNP) has wearied of documenting each death. PNP Director-General Roland “Bato” de la Rosa is reduced to tears in explaining all the blood on his hands.
Protests and international criticism have not moderated Duterte’s drug policy. The PNP was taken off the drug war for a brief time, only to return with even more ferocity. The other week, the police unfolded a new phase in its campaign, ”One time, big time,” first in Bulacan, and then in Metro Manila. After the killing of 32 drug suspects in the Bulacan raids, the President heaped not only praise on the police, he set a new bar for them to clear: 32 killed drug suspects every day. It was in these circumstances that 17-year-old Grade 12 student Kian Lloyd de los Santos was killed by the police.
A sense of public outrage
A tiny statistic perhaps, in the ocean of dead bodies in the drug war, but Kian’s killing, in a classic demonstration of “the power of one,” may have ignited what has been missing from the drug war all this time: a sense of public outrage. Outrage, which means anger, revulsion or resentment aroused by injury or insult, has spread like wildfire across the archipelago.
Another narrative, another battle suddenly looms on the nation‘s center-stage.
The signs and sounds of overt opposition to President Duterte and his brutal drug war are more persistent and widespread now.
It’s no longer just the usual suspects from the Liberal opposition and the yellow cult who are crying foul against the drug war. It is the people—including the allies, opponents and critics of Duterte. Outrage is engulfing all.
Members of the 17-member majority bloc in the Senate will issue today a resolution condemning Kian’s killing and the other senseless killings. They will move for a Senate inquiry to review the PNP’s anti-drug operations and to determine accountability in the “unnecessary and unjustified deaths or killings.”
Senate President Koko Pimentel described the sense of the Senate best when he called the killings “some police killing spree.”
The Catholic Church, for its part, will ring the bells in its parishes to protest the drug-related killings in the weeks to come, two prominent bishops announced.
Outgoing Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) president Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas and Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, in separate pastoral letters read last Sunday, both stressed the disturbing trend of killings in the drug war.
The church leaders issued their statements after what they called the bloodiest week in the government’s war on illegal drugs that saw 81 deaths, including that of De los Santos.
Cardinal Tagle deplored “the waste of human lives.” He called for the most telling move of all: a multi- sectoral dialogue on the killings and the drug war.
In Villegas’ archdiocese, church bells will be rung for 15 minutes every 8 p.m. starting today, August 22 until November 27.
“The sound of the bells is the voice of God that we hope will wake up numb and blind consciences. You shall not kill! That is a sin! That is against the law! That is what the bells will be saying!” Villegas said.
Media organizations are in an uproar too. One editor protested: “Enough is enough!”
If the multi-sectoral dialogue called by the Catholic Church transpires, the nation will get a full sense of how far and how deeply the drug war has cut into the country‘s emotional center. No sector will be unrepresented in that dialogue.
Police accountability and the budget
Beyond public hearings, Congress—both chambers—must move toward making the police fully accountable for its actions in the drug war.
Sen. Ralph Recto is correct to raise the issue of the police budget in expressing concern about Kian’s death. He said in a statement;
“Kian’s killing has united the nation in anger and grief. This national pain can only be salved by the truth.
“In the House and in the Senate, the budget hearings will provide an opportunity for oversight, which could answer a very critical question: What are the sources of funds for this nationwide operation?
”Where does the PNP get its financial ammo for the conduct of tokhang, of both the legal (yung katok lang na may pakiusap) and the lethal kind (yung may putok na may patay)?
“For 2018, the administration is asking for P900 million for the implementation of Oplan Double Barrel Reloaded.
“Before such campaign is reloaded with funds, questions as to how it will be implemented must first be asked by Congress.
“The PNP will also get a P20 billion increase in its budget next year, to P131.5 billion, from P111.8 billion this year. What is this budget for?
“The PNP Internal Affairs Service will be given P731 million. And yet we have never heard from the IAS amidst all the killings perpetrated by the police in the drug war.”
Isolation of the President
At the height of the public uproar over the drug killings, Malacañang declared that the death of Kian de los Santos was an “isolated” case.
“That incident I think is isolated,” Palace spokesman Ernesto Abella said without blinking during a press conference.
Abella reiterated that President Rodrigo Duterte will not tolerate any police abuses despite his promise to protect and defend law enforcers carrying out the drug war.
But the President’s words often say the contrary. Increasingly, as the public outrage mutates into a demand for full accountability by the PNP, it may be the President who will isolated. He will be squeezed between his desire to absolve the police of wrongdoing and his public obligation to do right by the people.