If I become President, it would be bloody because we’ll order the killing of all criminals, ang mga durugista at [narcotics offenders and]drug lords.
— Presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte, in February
WELL, he warned us.
And now the threat of a bloody war on crime looks more and more real. No less than incoming President Rodrigo Duterte has offered bounties of P5 million for drug lords captured or killed, with lesser amounts for lower-ranking syndicate members.
In response, narcotics honchos are reportedly putting up a bounty of P50 million for Duterte to be assassinated—the first money-backed threat against the leader of an Asian nation.
Also threatened with the same price on his head is incoming Philippine National Police Chief Ronald de la Rosa, who had challenged narco-kings brandishing assassination threats to “bring it on.”
So now, the war on crime has imposed on Filipinos the unprecedented threat of presidential assassination with its attendant risks, uncertainty, and potential shock, instability, and political and economic fallout.
At every public event and even in Palace seclusion, Duterte could be targeted, possibly by some of the most fearsome killers money can buy. And as assassinations elsewhere have demonstrated, even the toughest, most advanced presidential security in the world is not totally impregnable.
American President John F. Kennedy in 1963. South Korean dictator Park Chung-hee in 1979. Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat in 1981. Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1984. Her son, also Indian PM, Rajiv Gandhi in 1991. Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa in 1993. Israeli PM Yitzhak Rabin in 1995.
Plus the failed attempts to kill Pope St. John Paul II and US President Ronald Reagan, both shot in 1981.
As for attempted assassinations in the Philippines, there were the attacks on then-Pope Paul VI in 1970 by a deranged Brazilian artist, and on then-First Lady Imelda Marcos in Dec. 1972—just three months after martial law was imposed.
Plainly, if the most disciplined and best-trained and -equipped security forces in the world could not protect Kennedy, Park, the Gandhis, and Rabin, how might the PNP and the Presidential Security Group fare against master assassins targeting Duterte?
Can assassins be stopped?
With the drug lords apparently taking up PNP Chief de la Rosa’s challenge, there is now the paramount imperative to protect him and President Duterte, and reduce their vulnerabilities to assassins.
Duterte may have to rethink his planned frequent travel between Manila and Davao. Besides the threat of bombs on board, presidential flights face the threat of portable surface-to-air missiles.
On the black market, the American-made Stinger costs perhaps double or triple its list price of $38,000. Even at, say, $120,000 a piece, one-third of the P50-million bounty would fetch three Stingers. No presidential plane or chopper would be safe with such projectiles loose in the country.
Close-in bodyguards themselves would need to be meticulously vetted. Indira Gandhi and Sadat were both killed by their own troops, and Park by his own chief of intelligence and security.
Mingling with crowds might also have to be a no-no. It nearly cost John Paul II his life, forcing the Vatican to limit papal movements, and devise the bulletproof Popemobile.
Perhaps hardest to guard against are suicide bombers willing to die for a purportedly righteous cause or the right price. Women strapped with explosives killed Rajiv Gandhi and Premadasa Ranasinghe.
Given the impossibility of countering every possible threat, it would not be surprising if there are moves to eliminate the paymasters offering bounties for their heads. Kill the drug lords offering P100 million, and would-be assassins may lose pecuniary interest.
Since the narco-kings have, in effect, put a gun to the heads of the President and the PNP chief, killing the hoods may be seen by Filipinos as an act of self-defense.
Thus, the reputed backers of the Duterte and de la Rosa killer contracts may have signed their own death warrants. Or maybe they think they’re good as dead, since they are likely to be eliminated, even in prison, if they lose their narco-clout.
Bottom line: With the rapidly intensifying threats of bloodletting, the country looks set to face unprecedented uncertainty in the national leadership, perhaps just as worrisome as having cancer-afflicted Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago as head of state.
What if …
Security planning and crisis management would necessarily have to ponder the possibility of President Duterte being gravely wounded or even killed.
If that happens, what’s the country to do?
Vice President Leni Robredo would be constitutionally empowered to take over while Duterte is incapacitated or if he is liquidated.
That, of course, drastically changes the political landscape, with the collapsed Liberal Party and the camp of outgoing President Benigno Aquino 3rd probably getting another lease on life.
On the other hand, the ascendant Duterte-led regime may not so easily give up power, especially if Robredo is seen as unable to continue the fight against crime, or her Liberal Party cohorts are tarred by syndicate links.
After all, it was under Aquino that crime tripled from 324,083 incidents in 2010 to more than a million a year since 2013—a surge that could only have been engineered by syndicates, not individual criminals.
And don’t forget the reported belief in the Duterte camp that the LP cheated Sen. Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. of the vice presidency.
In addition to igniting intense political rivalries, assassination of the most staunchly defended person in the country would make everyone else fear the drug lords even more; if they can eliminate the President, who’s safe?
No doubt about it: the coming six years brings an unprecedented level of risk and possible carnage, as the anti-crime crusaders led by President Duterte strike at the lawless groups that have exploded under Aquino.
God have mercy on the Philippines.