Here’s the riddle (mystery) that should haunt us Filipinos amidst our collective shame and anguish over the kidnapping, murder and cremation of South Korean businessman Jee Ick Joo by police operatives in October last year:
Since his accession to office on June 30, 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte has visited and addressed no group more frequently or affectionately than the camps and units of the Philippine National Police (PNP). He addressed the police more times than the armed forces and business groups.
These speeches are notable because they are the ones where he presumably made the case for the urgency and necessity of his war on illegal drugs. These are the ones where he lambasted no end President Barack Obama, UN secretary-general Ban Ki Moon, the European commission, and human rights organizations. There he made the valid argument for Philippine sovereignty in the conduct of the drug war. There he waged war on international media for reporting and questioning the extra-judicial killings (EJKs) of thousands. It was in these speeches also where he promised to raise the salaries of law enforcers, and to provide them protection if they are charged for offenses committed while doing their duty.
I raise this matter now in order to express my perplexity on why members of the PNP went on to commit multiple crimes against citizens and foreign guests, after being given so much attention and solicitude.
Sensational crimes by police
I refer particularly to two highly explosive crimes and scandals:
The murder in jail of former Albuera. Leyte Mayor Rolando Espinosa, which was perpetrated according to the National Bureau of Investigatin (NBI) by members of the PNP Criminal Detection and Investigation Group (PNP CDIG – Region 8).
The kidnapping and murder of the South Korean businessman within the PNP headquarters in Camp Crame, parpetrated by police operatives, on the pretext that he was under suspicion of trafficking in illegal drugs.
Did the police officers and operatives accused in these crimes attend DU30’s pep talks for the police.
Were they roused to do their duty and enforce the law, or were they inversely emboldened to flout the law, because of the seeming presidential message that they had a license to kill?
Most of these speeches are on the records and files of government television and the private networks, because many speaking occasions were broadcast live and rerun by the networks.
I listened to some of these speeches, because they were on every time I turned on the TV set.
It was then that I got the impression that the President delivered the same speech and the same message on these occasions. Every speech was extemporaneous.
I wondered whether the president would explain on these occasions the basis for declaring a war on drugs, and the justification for the policy of killing drug suspects, be they drug lord, drug pushers or just drug addicts.
No data on drug situation
The President never unraveled data and statistics on the Philippine drug situation to explain his drug policy. He did not provide corroboration or documentation from the country’s two drug agencies, the Dangerous Drugs Board, and the Phlippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA). He did not do so, because the agencies’ knowledge of the situation differed from his working figure of four million drug addicts and the extremely dire future awaiting the nation if the drug menace is not snuffed out.
I did not see a single instance in these speeches where the President took the trouble to remind the police that their primordial duty is the protection of the citizenry and keeping the peace in our neighborhoods.
I looked in vain for the subtle shift from the theme of protection to the theme of killing in the President’s rhetoric,
Instead, the unfortunate message that came across was a presidential assurance of protection for law enforcers who are charged for violations in the drug war.
If the theme of responsibility of the police was conveyed at all , it was as the responsibility of the PNP to exterminate the drug menace.
Did SPO3 Ricky Santa Isabel, the principal accused in the Jee murder, attend the DU30’s pep talks for the police? If he did, did he get the wrong message?
Was it during these talks that the plan for kidnapping the Korean on the pretense of a drug raid, and the companion plan of extorting money from his wife, were cemented and emboldened the perps?
The alarming conclusion is that instead of reinforcing devotion to duty and rule of law by the police, DU30 may have unwittingly emboldened them to commit criminal acts.
Rule of law breakdown?
An international human rights organization has linked the killing of the South Korean businessman to President Duterte’s campaign against drugs and crime.
Human Rights Watch deputy director Phelim Kine said Jee’s killing is “an ominous indicator of the breakdown of rule of law under President Rodrigo Duterte.”
Kine described Jee’s killing as “notably grotesque” in line with existing killings from the campaign against drugs, which is the centerpiece of the Duterte administration.
PNP chief Gen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa bristles at the link between the drug war and the Jee killing, claiming that similar crimes were more prevalent in previous administrations.
But Kine says that the environment under Duterte has made it ripe for crooked policemen to go into crime.
“Philippine police have good reason to believe that they can literally get away with murder. Duterte has pledged effective immunity for police who kill in the name of his drug war. He underscored his own personal contempt for human rights and rule of law on December 12 when he publicly announced that he had personally killed suspected drug users and dealers while mayor of Davao City,” Kline said.
Who has the responsibility?
The problem, let’s face it, is at the door not only of the drug war, but at the door of the President.
Duterte’s winning campaign for the presidency was anchored on the restoration of law and order in the country. The way things are turning out, the national police under his watch has become a force for lawbreaking, and only rarely a force for law enforcement.
It is doubly unfortunate that Gen. Dela Rosa, an amiable police chief, is taking most of the heat for these dastardly acts within his turf. All his histrionics (weeping and wiping his shaved head) notwithstanding, he cannot avoid responsibility for all that has gone wrong with the PNP under his charge.
Neither can President Duterte escape responsibility for what his self-declared drug war may have wrought.