In his speech before local executives in Makati on Tuesday, President Duterte declared rhetorically: “This is my country. There is no law which says I cannot threaten criminals either as a mayor or as President. If anyone disagrees, give me the provision or law.”
Sir, I believe there is a law. It is reflected in the very words you swore to at your inauguration as our Republic’s 16th President on June 30.
You solemnly swore to Defend and protect the Constitution; Execute our laws; and Do justice to every man.
In saying “every man,” the Constitution does not exclude the 3 million drug suspects in the illegal drugs trade. Or criminals as you call them.
Doing justice to all is a command
The provision “do justice to every man,” according to Jose N. Nolledo (a member of the Constitutional Commission that drafted the Charter in 1986), means: “The President is enjoined to do justice to every man. He can do this by executing the law and judicial decisions with fairness and equal treatment to all, regardless of their status or standing in life. He must see to it that abuses of human rights are prevented and if abuses are done, the guilty ones should be duly punished.”
“Enjoined” means the President is ordered and required to do this by the law of the land.
Furthermore, the Constitution restrains the presidential power through the Bill of Rights (Article III), which says in sections 1 and 2:
Section 1. “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law, nor shall any person be denied the equal protection of the laws.
Section 2. “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures of whatever nature and for any purpose shall be inviolable, and no search warrant or warrant of arrest shall issue except upon probable cause to be determined personally by the judge after examination under oath…”
Further on in Article III, Section 12 (2), the charter provides: “no torture, force, violence, threat, intimidation, or any other means which vitiate the free will shall be used against him. Secret detention places, solitary, incommunicado, or other similar forms of detention are prohibited.”
Nolledo explains: “Any governmental acton in violation of the rights declared in the Bill of Rights is void, so that the provisions of a Bill of Rights are self-executing to this extent.
“The provisions of the Bill of Rights are primarily limitations on government, declaring rights that exist without governmental grant, that may not be taken away by government and that government has the duty to protect.”
Even in just issuing threats to kill drug suspects, it can be construed that the President is already violating the spirit of the Constitution. It vitiates due process.
Complaining against the law
While he heralds his war on drugs as a campaign for law and order, the President has lately professed impatience with the law and lamented the technicality of the laws of the land.
He says now that he might have misjudged the severity of the drug problem. Consequently, he will need more than six months to solve the problem.
He said in Makati: “The problem now is that drugs are within the government. Listen, all of you, there is not much trade now outside. But if you want to buy shabu, if you want to do business, you need to go to penal colonies.”
So he himself is getting confused on how to deal with the situation. He averred that his moves are being constrained by the technicality of the laws of the land:
“You cannot convict, apprehend, or prosecute a person…. That makes it hard for me to deal with the problem.”
So then he issued a warning: “They [the drug suspects]should just pray that I keep my sanity. Because if I go crazy, I will bring an M-16 myself, maybe two patrollers with me, and I will end this problem once and for all.”
This confession of impotence sounds like desperation. And therein lies the danger for the nation.
He might break the law to enforce the law.
A mayor, not a statesman
To get around the law, Duterte is trying every tactic, including self-deprecation:
“I can only act like a mayor. I’m not ready for the big league.
“Never mind my mouth. I never aspired to be a statesman.”
“They said I should stop making noise. No, I cannot stop. I’ll lose momentum.”
But law and justice are not a matter of momentum.
It’s significant that some of the President’s allies in Congress – Senator Dick Gordon especially – have come around to the view that the President’s position on the drug war is indefensible.
Gordon says the President’s repeated endorsement of the killing of drug suspects is being taken to mean that he is sanctioning extrajudicial killings.
“The President is too noisy. It is all right for him to show that he loathes drugs, but he shouldn’t say ‘I will kill you.’ That’s not right. He is falling on his own sword, tripping on his sword because he talks and talks so the country is accused that that’s what is happening.”
No escape from due process
Noisy or not, there is no escape from due process for the President.
The purposes of due process are as old as the Republic itself. They are:
1. To prevent improper government encroachment against an individual’s life, liberty or property;
2. To prevent arbitrary exercise of governmental powers; and
3. To prevent unjustified confiscation of property.
Daniel Webster provided the most enduring definition of due process when he declared that due process of law meant “a law which hears before it condemns; which proceeds upon inquiry; and renders judgment only after trial.”
Alas in the war on drugs, the President has condemned without hearing, proceeded without inquiry; and has already rendered judgment on 3 million of our countrymen without trial.