I am not ready to pounce upon President Rodrigo Duterte over a self-confessed killer’s claims that from 1998 to 2013, the Davao Death Squad killed 1,000 people on orders of the then city mayor of Davao. But I am not ready to brush aside all those allegations without a fair hearing, either. I am willing to grant, purely on the basis of appearances, that DU30 is “unfazed” by Edgar Matobato’s accusations, but I am afraid I cannot echo or endorse my own paper’s banner story on Saturday, that DU30 is “unscathed” by the assassin’s horrifying tale.
The US State Department and some members of the European Parliament, among others, have expressed concern about the “expose.” The New York Times, the world’s most influential newspaper, has carried a video interview with the hitman Matobato. And TIME magazine, which ran the only international cover story on DU30 as “The Punisher” during the presidential campaign, has come out with a Sept. 26, 2016 cover story, “Night Falls on the Philippines.” Both the American Chamber of Commerce and the European Chamber of Commerce have expressed reservations about the effects of the drug killings on investors’ confidence.
The usual propaganda fraudsters, which earlier claimed 91 percent of Filipinos “support” the President who got 38 percent of the votes last May in a five-way contest, have not come up with any study showing how many Filipinos believe the confessed assassin or continue to support DU30 in the face of those accusations. No statistical analysis, no matter how nebulous, exists to support the statement that DU30 is “unscathed” by the allegations. What is worth noting is that he has not said a word about them, contrary to his usual norm. Only his spokesman and some people close to him have dismissed the accusations as not worth dignifying.
For or against DU3O?
Someone has asked me: “Where do you stand on the issue—-are you for or against DU30?” It is a kneejerk, but incompetent question. The question is not whether one is for or against DU30, but whether one approves of the things he’s accused of, assuming the accusation can hold. I count myself as a constructive critic, and I support the President when he is right, oppose and try to correct him when he is wrong. But knowing next to nothing about DU30’s past record, or the Davao Death Squad, or Matobato, or the forces at play in the Senate hearings, I have no special way of knowing what is true and what is false, what to believe and what to reject in the allegations.
Nothing but lies, according to DU30’s defenders. Perjured witness, they have called the self-confessed hitman. But my co-host on my Sunday evening/Monday morning cable TV show on GNN/Destiny cable reminded me and our televiewers that during the last campaign candidate DU30 had bragged openly of having ordered the killing of nearly 2,000 criminals in his clean-up tdrive in Davao.
The current TIME magazine article also recalls that “his boast of the ‘1,700’ suspected criminals killed by death squads when he was mayor—-correcting, on live television, allegations that the number was 700—-created no uproar.”
Because of the questions raised by Sen. Panfilo Lacson and some others about Matobato’s credibility, the public may have found sufficient basis to doubt, if not dismiss, the confessed assassin’s allegations about 1,000 summary killings. But what would be their basis for questioning the credibility of the President’s previous claim about 1,700 killings?
This is precisely our problem—-the people’s problem. If Matobato’s allegations are all false and malicious, intended to destroy DU30 and his administration, there is no legal obstacle to getting back at the confessed assassin, or perhaps at those who had brought him to Sen. Leila de Lima’s Senate committee hearings. But if PDU30 is shown to be indictable for having ordered all those killings, what can anyone do about it? There is no legal process by means of which he could be held accountable.
Not even impeachment will work
As President, he enjoys immunity from suit, and may be removed from office only through impeachment. But he could be impeached only for culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes, or betrayal of public trust from the time he became President on June 30, 2016, not for any crimes committed during his 22 years as city mayor of Davao.
Assuming he could be charged with any of the crimes mentioned above, he could be impeached only by a vote of at least one-third of all the members of the House of Representatives, and convicted and removed by the Senate impeachment court only with the concurrence of at least two-thirds of all the members of the Senate.
This is an impossible scenario right now. The entire Congress has become a DU30 rubber stamp.
Both Houses are headed by two politicians whose only qualification is that they are both from Mindanao and from DU30’s adopted party, PDP-Laban, which did not have more than three visible organic members before the elections, but which has now become so overloaded with post-election opportunist migrants, to the point of sinking. Thus, Senate President Koko Pimentel refused to extend the Senate’s protective custody to Matobato despite his precarious security situation after his testimony at the hearings.
Unless former Budget Secretary Butch Abad is able to recycle whatever remains of his constitutionally outlawed P148-billion DAP budget and use it to repurchase the loyalty of all the political opportunists who had abandoned the LP’s sinking ship, there is no chance for the congressmen and senators who have embraced DU30 to fiddle with the idea of impeaching the President. Not even Vice President Leni Robredo, who stands to benefit from DU30’s impeachment and removal, so long as Sen. Bongbong Marcos’s electoral protest has not removed her from the office, will dare toy with it.
How about a UN approach?
This is what we hear from international human rights activists. Since DU30 will not investigate himself, the UN should initiate a process, this group suggests. But DU30 has already said, “F***k you, UN,” where Sukarno in his time said, “UN, go to H-e-l-l!” DU30 will not likely recognize, much less welcome, a UN process. The solution, Albay’s Congressman Edcel Lagman suggests, is an independent fact-finding commission, similar to the old Agrava Commission, the Feliciano Commission and the Melo Commission, to investigate the Matobato allegations. But all these previous commissions did not have to deal with any direct accusation against the sitting President. This could be the real problem here.
Neither are there any existing foreign models to copy or learn from. In the case of Chile’s Augusto Pinochet, who was president from 1973 to 1990 and Commander-in-Chief of the Chilean Army from 1973 to 1998, he could not be touched while he remained in office despite charges that his dictatorial regime forcibly interned, tortured, murdered and caused the disappearance of people. According to some statistics, 1,200 to 3,200 were murdered, 80,000 forcibly interned and 30,000 tortured during his rule. But on Oct. 10, 1998, he was arrested for numerous international human rights violations while visiting London. There he was detained.
On March 3, 2000, Pinochet was released and allowed to return to Chile for health reasons. In 2004, he was placed under house arrest after a judge ruled that he was not medically fit to stand trial. He died on Dec. 10, 2006, with some 300 criminal cases still pending against him. I am not suggesting any similarity between DU30 and Pinochet, who are on two ideologically opposite poles. But some people are beginning to see signs of a drift toward dictatorship as DU30’s calculated response to the crumbling of his relationship with the country’s traditional Western allies.
Although DU30 has allowed himself to be publicly overruled by his own Defense secretary on his public statement demanding the pullout of US forces in Mindanao——Secretary Delfin Lorenzana now says there will be no such pullout—-he has already signalled a shift from his immediate predecessor’s open support for the US pivot to Asia to a new security paradigm that includes acquiring weapons from China and Russia, and withdrawing from joint maritime patrols of the South China Sea with the US, Australia and Japan.
This has prompted Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop to ask why DU30 has decided to abandon the joint patrol, when it was the Aquino government that had originally proposed it. On the part of Japan, Defense Minister Tomomi Idada has been quoted as saying her government was prepared to increase its engagement in the South China Sea, despite DU30’s action.
Credit downgrade, and sanctions next?
Aside from the clearly political reactions to DU30, the economic and financial response of investors has set off alarm bells. Philippine stock prices have started falling, investors now demand a higher risk premium to hold Philippine assets, reports The Economist quoting a source at AmCham, while Guenter Taus, the head of the European Chamber of Commerce, is quoted as saying, “A lot of people are hesitant to put their money into the Philippines at this point.”
Not a few observers are worried that the Philippine economy, which in recent years had benefitted from credit rating upgrades from the relevant agencies, could suffer from a sudden credit rating downgrade, and possibly economic sanctions on the issue of human rights, like those that remain in force against Burma, Cuba, Iran, Ivory Coast, North Korea and Syria.
Although many fear that DU30 may have made himself more vulnerable to those who would like to see him out of the way, they do not see him caving in to any physical threat or pressure from these sources. To the contrary, they see him using such threats to justify a dictatorship backed by a retooled military and his current communist coalition partners.
Since becoming President, he has religiously courted the military by visiting the military camps without interruption, promising to double or treble the salaries and other benefits of the troops, their spouses and children, while simultaneously trying to consolidate his support among his mainline allies on the Left and their support organizations.
On his recent trip to Vientiane, Laos to attend the Asean summit, according to our best sources, DU30 was accompanied by some communist members of his Cabinet. They had no role to play at the summit, but they reportedly went there to meet with their counterparts from some neighboring countries. What did they talk about? Let’s hope Secretary Lorenzana talks about it in his next press statement.