THE naming by President Rodrigo Duterte of five police high officials (not “generals,” as wrongly described) as the alleged protectors of some notorious drug lords leads us to ask the question: Who are the ultimate protectors of these alleged protectors of the alleged drug lords? The popular notion is that no drug trafficking, prostitution, illegal gambling or any of the other notorious crimes can thrive in any locality without the illegal protection of some cops and pols. So who are the high government officials involved here? Does the answer go all the way up to Malacañang?
Under Executive Order No. 46 of June 13, 2011, then-President B.S. Aquino 3rd reconstituted the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Commission under then-Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa to combat organized and syndicated groups engaged in drug trafficking, human trafficking, car theft, gun running, robbery, kidnap for ransom, smuggling, other transnational crimes as well as heinous crimes. Although the Executive Secretary is only a staff officer rather than a full-fledged department head, several department heads who outranked him in the official pecking order were placed under him.
These included the Secretaries of the Interior and Local Government, Justice, National Defense, and Foreign Affairs, the National Security Adviser, AFP Chief of Staff, PNP Chief, National Intelligence Coordinating Agency Director-General, National Bureau of Investigation Director, and Philippine Center for Transnational Crime Executive Director. This was seen to mean that the President would actually be calling the shots through his aide, who would be directly accountable to him.
Is Aquino’s PAOCC answerable?
It now appears from President DU30’s findings that PAOCC not only failed in its mission to curb and control organized crime, but also specifically failed to expose and terminate the involvement of high PNP and other officials in the dangerous drugs trade, among other crimes. This first came to light when it was revealed that dangerous drugs were being manufactured right inside the national penitentiary (Bilibid Prisons). There are some suggestions now that some of PAOCC’s high officials were actually involved in protecting some drug lords or those who were protecting them. They could also be involved in other transnational crimes.
Did Ochoa ever submit a terminal report on the work and activities of PAOCC during his turn over of responsibilities to his successor, Executive Secretary Salvador Mediaaldea? Did he ever brief the latter on the state of organized crime in the country, and did he ever assure his successor that he could rely on the integrity and competence of the key personnel tasked to go after the criminal syndicates and drug lords?
Or, does the President have to look into the possible involvement and culpability of PAOCC officials now? After several groups filed criminal charges against former President B.S. Aquino 3rd and former Budget Secretary Florencio (Butch) Abad for their culpability in the manipulation and misuse of some P150 billion under the so-called Disbursement Acceleration Program, which the Supreme Court has declared void and unconstitutional, it would not be remiss for DU30 to formally inquire into PAOCC’s, and particularly Ochoa’s, role in fighting (or “protecting”?) organized crime.
The public perception is that some PAOCC officials and their closest business-kin had prospered beyond measure while organized crime, which they were supposed to stop, simply proliferated and spread. Ochoa may be in the best position to provide the necessary facts on this. He should be encouraged to open up. Beyond this, people are eager to see DU30 expose the real involvement not just of the police, but above all, of powerful politicians in the illegal narcotics trade.
Naming and shaming as punishment
I am not talking only of young moneyed politicians who are casual users of marijuana, “shabu” (methamphetamine), cocaine, and other illegal drugs, and who take a very light view of drug abuse. I am talking of political warlords whose involvement in the illegal drugs trade has not only destroyed the lives of our young people but also destroyed the normal conduct of our politics. Where drug money was involved in the last elections, the vote-buying was massive and the rates per vote sky high. What is not known is how much drug money went into the kitty of the presidential candidates, each of whom (except perhaps for one or two) spent billions of pesos on their campaign.
PNP Director General Ronald de la Rosa has revealed that 23 mayors are involved in the drugs trade, and that the President would be “naming” them soon. With all due respect, we do not want them named and shamed; we want them prosecuted and punished for their crimes. Regardless of their guilt, shaming suspects constitutes “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment” which is prohibited by, among others, the English Bill of Rights (1689), the eighth amendment to the US Constitution (1791), Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the European Convention on Human Rights (1950) and the Constitution of the Marshall Islands.
DU30 is obviously convinced that killing suspects is a quick and adequate solution to the problem. The media report his statements on this issue matter-of-factly without comment, and many of our countrymen do not have all the time, training or inclination to reflect on the moral rightness or wrongness of killing a suspect or even an apparently guilty individual without due process. They welcome every report that says one more drug pusher has been summarily executed and eliminated; they find no time to consider the cumulative effect of extra-judicial killing as a state policy, upon the lives of individuals or the life of the nation.
A crematorium for each district
Since DU30 assumed power on June 30 up to this writing, close to a hundred drug suspects have been killed “while resisting arrest,” among other things. The count will rise, as DU30 presses on his anti-narcotics drive. This has prompted at least one congressman—Ako Bicol party-list Rep. Rodel Batocabe—to propose the construction of an official crematorium in every congressional district. This could prove as popular as the old “solar dryer,” which became one of the favorite projects of congressmen for rice farmers not too long ago. But like the ovens of Dachau and Auschwitz, although there is no basis for this comparison, the proposed crematoriums will be preserved as evidence of a dark deed, before a more enlightened regime decided to call it a state crime.
Every extra-judicial killing invariably raises questions about human rights and due process. A highly popular President could get away with it for a while, ignoring all the objections from the sidelines. But eventually a backlash could develop, and the executioners may have to answer to an outraged public, or some national or international tribunal. Each killing does something permanent to the spectator, even though the individual concerned may not himself notice it while it is happening.
First hand witness
As a boy, I witnessed three inept and ignorant policemen shoot and kill a drunken troublemaker in the middle of the street in my own hometown during a town fiesta. That incident killed so much that was innocent and gentle in me as a young child. My father, who was the gentlest of all men, never spoke to the policemen, who were our neighbors, nor allowed them to come to our house again.
This is what I fear the most about these extra-judicial killings. They are going to change our people’s inner lives, their view of themselves and of humanity, and not necessarily for the better. They will harden their moral and aesthetic sensibilities, and make their consciences numb to the effects of violence. How can a young mother prevent her sweet and innocent daughter from learning about these killings, which are carried as prime news by newspaper, radio and television? And what does she tell her young daughter when she asks her why so many people are getting killed while she is trying to have breakfast with her mother?
Reduced to one police story
How do we, adults, explain it to ourselves that for weeks on end our nation of 100 million can talk only of death and violence, and nothing else? What evil have we done that our lives and the nation’s life should be reduced into one police story about death and violence? What happens to all our other pains and joys that make human life worth living, and citizenship worth its name?
As a newspaperman who, for at least 10 years, had to talk daily for the presidency to so many newspapermen from all over the world, I feel not just pained and sad but a little resentful about the fact that we could be on the way to becoming a police state by default or popular consent. The series of extra-judicial killings, each one justified as legal by the police, threatens to reduce the Philippine presidency into a “police beat” where the most important narrative for the day is the number of suspected drug pushers gunned down while resisting arrest.
No newspaper can do away with police stories. For every newspaper, the police beat is an important beat, but it is normally the entry point for the rookie—the training ground before one gets assigned to a major beat. But the presidency is the primary beat and is expected to produce presidential stories rather than police stories. The extra-judicial killings should not be allowed to reduce veteran presidential reporters (if they still exist) into mere police reporters.
Larger than violence and death
The President’s campaign against drugs and crime is certainly one that must be won. Through it, DU30 seeks to define his presidency. But the mandate of the presidency is much larger than just fighting drugs and crime. It must strengthen the physical and moral foundations of the nation, and ensure the material and spiritual well-being of its people. There are so many Mount Everest-issues of national interest involved here; it cannot sacrifice any one of them for the sake of another.
The need to provide the population with sufficient jobs and income, food, energy, education, housing and health care; the need to gain a place of honor and respect in the community of nations by defending its sovereignty and territorial integrity; the right of its people to live with one another and all other men and women as brothers and sisters, and to be free to worship their God without any state intervention—these are some of the most important parts of the narrative the presidency must communicate to the people.
Assuming DU30 could end the regime of organized crime, as he has promised to do, the task of government does not end there. That is only the beginning. I like to believe that the real task of democratic and constitutional government is to bring about the true humanization of society and its people in full accord with the tenets of their faith and reason.