PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte spent most of his first 10 months in office traveling to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) countries, among others, in order to build strong personal ties with his fellow heads of state and government in preparation for the Asean summit, now underway at the Philippine International Convention Center. It is the first time he is hosting a major international event; he obviously wants it to be an unqualified success. And he has put a lot of effort into it.
He has thrown in thousands of policemen and military troops to ensure the security and safety of the conference and his guests. In the last few days, he has avoided using coarse language to avoid offending public sensibilities; he might yet surprise everyone by appearing in a standard dark suit with a well-knotted tie around his neck, or a buttoned-up barong with rolled down sleeves in any of the photo ops. He might even fly in some durian for his honored guests. But a swarm of troubles have swirled around DU30 as he hosts this summit.
A banquet of ills
Magdalo party-list Rep. Gary Alejano has filed an impeachment complaint against the President for culpable violation of the Constitution, and for failing to protect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Philippines, particularly from foreign surveillance ships at Benham Rise, the vast undersea region near Aurora province. The complaint creates a hot talking point for the media and an active opposition bloc in Congress even if it is
ultimately thrown out by the President’s numerically superior allies.
A nasty quarrel between House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and Davao Congressman Antonio Floirendo Jr., DU30’s closest congressional allies in Mindanao, arising from a “bitches’ brawl” between their alleged “mistresses,” has compelled the President to declare, “who does not have two or more extra-marital affairs?” This unusually permissive policy is offensive to the average strait-laced Filipino citizen, and probably embarrassing even to President Francois Hollande and the morally permissive French.
An urban poor group in Pandi, Bulacan called Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (Kadamay) has illegally taken over 5,000 units of houses built by the National Housing Authority for the police and military, without any legal sanction or noteworthy reaction from government. This is the first such case of a forced takeover of government-built housing units by the homeless. Normally, it is the rich and the powerful who “land-grab” without the government doing anything about it.
At the same time, farmers belonging to the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), which used to be headed by Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano, have “occupied” a 500-hectare portion of the 6,000-hectare sugar estate, formerly owned by the late former President Corazon Cojuangco Aquino’s family, even as some 500 policemen and 50 private security guards reportedly idly watched. The Cojuangco family had earlier sold the occupied area to the Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. The farmers justified their occupation, saying “the severity of the crisis requires stronger action and militant engagement with the government.”
Agaw-bahay, agaw-lupa, agaw-gobyerno?
The twin incidents appeared to highlight the government’s “impotence” and the resolve of certain groups to take the law into their own hands. These have prompted some people to ask, “First, agaw-bahay, then agaw-lupa; is agaw-gobyerno next?” (First, the takeover of homes, then the takeover of land, is the takeover of government next?)
Amid bloody clashes between the military and the Abu Sayyaf Group in Bohol, and some beheadings in Mindanao, the government has uncovered a plot by the ASG, with the involvement of one female police superintendent, to stage a terrorist strike in Bohol. This has been reported in the mainstream press as a plot to stage a series of kidnappings for ransom, involving a young ASG fighter and a matronly police officer nearly twice his age, who are portrayed as lovers.
But some highly informed intelligence sources are not buying the “love” angle— (the man is 25 or so and the woman 52); they tend to believe the duo could be involved in a much more serious destabilization plot, probably to disrupt the summit and help fast-track the declaration of an emergency rule or a revolutionary government. These sources believe DU30 should conduct a deep investigation into this theory.
From Mindanao, with love
Finally, Jude Josue Sabio, a Mindanao lawyer for the past 20 years, has asked the International Criminal Court at the Hague to prosecute DU30 and 11 other officials for the alleged “mass murder” of 9,400 victims from 1988, when he was still mayor of Davao City, to the present, after he became President and launched his brutal war on drugs. Sabio has filed a 77-page “communication,” entitled, “The situation of mass murder in the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, the mass murderer.”
A chorus of official voices has dismissed Sabio’s filing as futile, comparing it to Magdalo’s impeachment complaint before the House of Representatives, and casting personal aspersions on Sabio’s credentials as a lawyer. But Malacañang should have no illusion that by allowing lawyer Salvador Panelo and spokesman Ernesto Abella to speak for the President, DU30 is getting any help. They do not have enough stature to merit international attention and respect.
Confident with ICC
Sources in close contact with ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and with other officials who have been monitoring the war on drugs for the past several months seem confident the ICC is taking the situation seriously, and could decide whether or not to indict DU30 in less than three months. For many this is a consummation devoutly to be wished.
DU30’s current war on drugs is reported to have killed some 8,000 drug suspects, most of them while allegedly resisting arrest. These include the late Mayor Rolando Espinosa of Albuera, Leyte, who was killed inside his detention cell in Baybay, Leyte, at 4 a.m. by a police contingent that had motored from Tacloban, reportedly to serve him a “search warrant.” The National Bureau of Investigation described it as a “rubout,” but the assailants alleged a “fire fight” and DU30 believed the assailants’ version.
No policeman or so-called vigilante has been prosecuted for any of the killings. Many have denounced the extra-judicial killings, including then-US President Barack Obama, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, former US Ambassador Philip Goldberg, UN Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard, Human Rights Watch and other human rights organizations, and almost every major international publication beginning with the world’s number one newspaper of record, The New York Times. All of them have reaped invectives from the President.
A first for PH, and for DU30
Sabio’s communication to the ICC is the first serious attempt by anyone to make DU30 criminally responsible for the killings. DU30 is the first Filipino President to be subjected to such action before an international tribunal. The estate of Ferdinand Marcos was asked to “indemnify” alleged victims of human rights abuses during martial law, after Marcos had been ousted by a US- and civilian-supported military revolt and exiled in Hawaii in 1986.
The alleged victims were mostly members and/or supporters of the communist rebellion whose threat to overthrow the government prompted Marcos to declare martial law in 1972. But an American judge, whose jurisdiction over the case remains in question until now, decided to indemnify the alleged “human rights victims,” without any exhaustive process to show that each claimant was indeed such a victim. Now, injury of injuries, the communist insurgency which Marcos tried to turn back remains very much alive, with more members sitting in the Cabinet, and the victims of its atrocities have never been recognized nor indemnified.
The Marcos case and DU30’s have very little in common.
Not an easy request
In drafting the proposed Manila summit declaration, which is to be released tomorrow, Malacañang reportedly wanted the document to reflect the Asean members’ unanimous support for DU30’s war on drugs. I have not been fully briefed on how the individual delegations reacted to this. But one could appreciate the delegation heads’ discomfort in having to be asked to make such a statement, given the current circumstances. It involves something purely internal to the Philippine government, and personal to its embattled president.
The delegation heads may not have had time to read Sabio’s 77-page communication, but all of them read the NY Times. And the Times is already asking the international community to “condemn” their genial summit host. An editorial written by the Times editorial board said: “There is already more than enough evidence for a preliminary investigation, which would send an unmistakable signal to Mr. Duterte that he may eventually have to answer for his crimes, and would encourage governments to take measures against him, such as imposing tariffs on Philippine goods.” It described DU30 as “a man who must be stopped.”
The filing alone of the communication before the ICC should encourage DU30 to end the controversy about the killings. “It is our hope that this move will inject fear into the hearts and minds of the accused officials so that they will eventually and sincerely put a stop to these merciless killings,” said Sorsogon Bishop Arturo Bastes. I have no doubt that most thoughtful Filipinos—including those who genuinely support DU30—sincerely support this wish.