A Rodrigo Duterte was bound to happen in the kind of society that we have.
What has brought him about, and accelerated the electrification to life of this political Frankenstein monster in this year’s elections was the extreme hypocrisy, incompetence and apathy toward the poor of a Benigno S. Aquino regime. Yes, none other than this President and his rich yellow legion – they who never curse but quietly send their enemies to jail.
Duterte is tapping into the masses’ outrage against the ruling elite, their huge disappointment that the Manila-based EDSA I had not meant anything to their lives through the past three decades. Duterte’s putanginas are what poor hacienda tenants and underpaid shopping mall sales clerks have kept buried in their chests and would have loved to spit out in their masters’ faces.
The lower classes – those who have to commute by jeepneys and are, thus, prone to holdups, or whose hard-earned cash is snatched in some dark alley as they walk home from work – are the most helpless victims of street criminals. If your meager, hard-earned income were snatched away by a pickpocket, wouldn’t you wish that criminal shot dead immediately, without going through the time-consuming, expensive, due process of law?
That is exactly what Duterte promises he will do.
However, in any other civilized nation on earth, Duterte’s kind who seeks the presidency would immediately get a good kick in the ass out the door, laughed at, or thrown into an asylum, except, of course, in an ISIS state if he happens to volunteer to kill criminals himself according to the Koran. Only in the Philippines – again that cliché – but it’s so true, can an admitted killer of humans be allowed to run for the presidency.
Duterte, essentially, is a leap backward into barbarism, from the dark clutches of which it took centuries for humanity to extricate itself.
He even relishes telling the tale of his savagery in his willingness to execute criminals himself, as though mocking justice that he can’t be taken to court for he only gives criminals the punishment they deserve. He boasted in a presidential debate: “Hindi ka puwedeng maging Presidente kung takot kang pumatay.” [You can’t qualify for the presidency if you’re afraid to kill.] I hope he only meant killing criminals, not his political enemies. Who, in our crime-ridden society where the legal system is slow and expensive, wouldn’t take notice of and be impressed by someone who promises to kill for them (suspected) criminals wherever they are found?
But Duterte’s now famous I-will-kill-them-myself campaign line is a double-edged sword. Paradoxical in a country where life is cheap (a hit reportedly could be contracted for as low as P20,000), and at the same time deeply valued in a dominantly Catholic nation.
People who have killed people are described in whispers in towns and urban neighborhoods as the red-eyed ones (mapula ang mata) or the nearly untranslatable “halang ang bituka.“ Even if a killing could be justified, a killer is said to have transformed himself into a different, indescribable category of human being, unable to sleep at night and beyond the mercy of the Holy Church.
Indeed, there is universal horror in the taking of a human life. Even medieval executioners wore masks to hide their faces and a blank bullet was given to an unidentified member of a firing squad so all of them could claim he did not fire the bullet that killed the man. Even in the high-tech lethal-injection system, there are two levers, one of which is fake, that release the poison into the convict’s body. Duterte, however, brags he will take a selfie when he takes down his next criminal.
Modern media has inured us to the horrors of the snuffing out of human life, with Dirty Harry, Natural Born Killers, and Quentin Tarantino movies portraying homicide and murder as a thrill reserved for the bold. Exploding brains hit by a bullet, blood gushing out as a samurai sword slashes a torso, arms ripped off by a grenade explosion – these have become the images representing what we may call kill-porn in this age.
In our minds we know, of course, it’s all about celluloid imagery – with the use of materials such as realistic-looking fake blood, or high-tech computer imaging techniques for effect, and we are bound to see more of the bad guys getting killed by Dirty Harry and Tarantino in their next movies.
The horror of killing and death is beyond the neat worlds of Duterte’s bourgeois admirers who have never ventured out of their gated villages, never saw the real world. Try as hard as you can, you cannot conjure up a real person dying from a bullet wound in front of you being a criminal. It is just mysterious that life is being snuffed out; there is even an element of childlike innocence in the pose of an alleged hardened-criminal shot by the police and lying bloodied on the street, strangely often in a fetal position.
Now, please think hard: do we really look forward to the metropolis’s streets becoming a killing field for Duterte’s kill-criminals campaign? Attractive as it might seem, there is no city anywhere in the world that has gotten rid of crime because of a Dirty Harry – nowhere really, only in the movies.
Civilization has gone a long, long way in inventing the principle of the rule-of-law with its twin, due process. Both almost miraculously appeared in medieval England, designed initially to check the power of kings over nobles. What is miraculous about it is that it is not derived from any religious teaching. There is no 11th commandment, “Be sure to apply due-process in determining who violated the above commandments.”
The rule-of-law principle isn’t just an idea some goody-goody idealist invented. It is part of our cultural evolution that has helped us develop and grow. Humanity has learned that the eye-for-an-eye principle ends up producing a kingdom of the blind, with a one-eyed jack as king. We are already seeing the Muslim equivalent of a Duterte campaign against criminals – the ISIS beheadings and hangings.
From just 16 countries in 1977, 152 have now abolished officially or in practice the death penalty, with only 37 retaining it in practice. And by death penalty, we mean undertaken only after a rigorous legal process. This is humanity progressing, embracing the belief of the transcendental value of a human life.
Yet, this arrogant mayor is telling the nation that he himself will kill criminals where they stand, and for that we should elect him President? And many people, even those educated in Christian schools, want him to be President? What has happened to our country?
Opportunistic Davao businessmen
If Duterte ever becomes President, blame the opportunistic Davao big businessmen – the banana kings, property developers, former cement millers who are throwing their money into his campaign – and especially the spoiled brat Alan Cayetano, desperate to be in the game even if no party wanted him, and who allegedly gave Duterte P100 million to convince him to run for President and take him as his running mate. To be fair to Duterte, he wasn’t lusting to be President at the start, but I guess a huge retirement kitty, especially if one has some disease, is difficult to reject.
The Davao elite had used Duterte to the hilt. By killing criminals, and not waiting for the legal system to convict them, Duterte may have contributed to making the city attractive to investors (with whom the Davao businessmen have surely sealed partnerships) and to consumers (who bought their products).
But what is left after they’ve become rich – cemeteries filled with corpses of (suspected) criminals? And after Duterte, now 72, fades away from the scene? Has the institution of the rule of law in Davao been strengthened? But of course, these Davao businessmen don’t care, as they would just return to their feudal-like estates in Mindanao.
Cavite used to be known as a bandits’ lair in the 1950s, and powerful warlord-politicians had tried the Duterte style. Did that solve crimes in the province? No, what did it was the province’s economic growth, spurred by the establishment of export processing zones.
Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim in his first term, 1992 to 1998, tried the Duterte tack, with crude cardboard labels even pinned on “salvaged” alleged drug-distributors’ corpses saying, “I was a drug-dealer, do not emulate me.”
Lim himself saw it didn’t work, and abandoned it. Crime remains rampant in Manila not because alleged criminals had not been summarily killed, but because it’s economy has not grown to keep pace with the influx of immigrants from all over the country. Manila has the same number of courts and fiscals as it had two decades ago.
Do these Davao businessmen think that the present group of criminals, even a generation of criminals, if all eliminated at one time would prevent new criminals from emerging?
The solution to rampant crime is not rampant killing. The solution is an efficient police force implementing the rule of law, an efficient and fast legal system, and most importantly, an economy rich and egalitarian enough to minimize those choosing the way of crime.
The problem with Duterte is that he doesn’t know of any other world except Davao and thinks his kill-criminal tack is new and can be applied effectively anywhere. Duterte’s platform of government is essentially vigilantism, which had plagued nearly all countries in the periods when the rule-of-law institutions were still being formed.
It has not succeeded anywhere it was tried, relegated as the horror chapters of nations’ histories, the relatively recent cases being the Black Shadow of El Salvador, the City without Drugs in Yekaterinburg in Russia, the Bakassi Boys of Nigeria, Los Pepes in Columbia, and the horrific killing of street children by military police in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas. Do we really want the metropolis to be in this rogues’ gallery?
Duterte and Grace Poe are the two snake-oil merchants of this election, the charlatans, selling fake miracle cures, like eradicating crime in six months — which is like promising to make Manila another Singapore in a year.
They are the two sides of the same counterfeit coin. Poe is selling herself as the daughter of the mythical hero Panday, who would save the country. Duterte is hawking himself as the movie-character Dirty Harry, the Punisher who would kill criminals where they stand. Both are living in fictional never-never land, and they want Filipinos to join them in their delusions.
Both are appealing to the basest, most juvenile instincts of the Filipino masses. Poe is tapping into their infantile notions of a hero of myth saving them. Duterte is tapping into people’s reptilian brains to produce the hormones for rage — so evident in Duterte fanatics’ bullying in social media of those criticizing him.
Filipinos have gotten tired of Poe, and saw through her acting of made-up roles. Filipinos will get tired of Duterte’s putanginas and leches, the highest level of discourse he is capable of, and boasting that corpses of criminals on the street will solve crimes.
The problem with rabble-rousers is they can only maintain their audience if they raise their shock values, in contrast to somebody in rational discourse who would just give more and more rational arguments.
Duterte can keep shocking people if he boasts of something like: “I have eaten and will eat criminals’ hearts, ripped from their chests.”