If President Rodrigo Roa Duterte succeeds in stabilizing relations with China, making peace with the CPP/NPA/NDF and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, and ending the illegal drugs traffic, he would probably be worthy of more than one Nobel Peace Prize. He would have succeeded where his predecessor B. S.Aquino 3rd had dismally failed. But if the world press and the human rights lobby succeed in portraying him as a blood-sucking monster who delights in the extra-judicial killing of suspects, nothing good he does or will do could ever brighten or prettify his image. This is PDU30’s dilemma at this point.
Sen. Leila de Lima was the first and so far the only one to raise her voice officially on the spate of extra-judicial killings, reported to have claimed the lives of some 700 drug suspects in the hands of the police and vigilantes, since July 1. She was the only senator whose hand PDU30 (playfully) shook on his way to the podium to deliver his State of the Nation Address at the Batasan on July 25. In a maiden privilege speech at the Senate, she denounced the killings and called for “accountability” on the part of “the state actors responsible for this terrifying trend in law enforcement,” and the “investigation of killings perpetrated by vigilante assassins.”
The world press weighs in
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II quickly responded by announcing that De Lima was herself under investigation for alleged links to the dangerous drugs trade during her tenure as Aquino’s Secretary of Justice–a charge she vehemently denied as completely unfounded and unfair. But the stronger and more sustained denunciation of the killings appears to be coming from the international human rights watch and the world press, which has begun criticizing the rise in body count, and putting out harrowing pictures of the “inhuman conditions” of drug users who had surrendered to the authorities at the start of the anti-drugs drive.
This is not an insignificant, negligible or innocuous development.
Where the government could easily ignore domestic criticism like De Lima’s, or suppress or drown it by talking of other things in the social media or mainstream press, it cannot casually brush aside these voices, which have their own way of perpetuating themselves. Normally media organizations like TIME magazine, The New York Times, The Guardian, The Independent or CNN ignore Philippine developments unless there is a major natural or man-made calamity like super typhoon Yolanda or a rare epidemic. But they seem poised to weigh in against DU30 on the human rights debate.
This is not so easy to dismiss. DU30 has challenged the UN and the various human rights groups to solve the drugs problem themselves, if they want to or if they believe they can. This does not answer the criticism. It is not for the UN or any human rights group to rid us of dangerous drugs. It remains our own government’s duty to do so. But PDU30 cannot say the only way to solve the problem is to do it his way–to eliminate all suspects, even without their having been accused or found guilty of any crime.
This method is certain to eliminate the unlucky victims–at least 3,000 of them by the end of November, according to some qualified police sources–but will it finally eliminate the drugs problem? Or will it not simply replace it with a more hideous and dangerous one–that of a repressive “killer government?” There is no question that we need to eliminate the dangerous drugs trade. But should it be at the cost of creating a climate of fear for everyone, and turning the government into an executioner of everyone suspected of being involved in drugs?
Were death the only solution to crime, Yahweh would have taken Cain’s life for the murder of his brother Abel, instead of enjoining others not to do him any harm. The crucified Christ would not have promised Heaven to that audacious thief, and Pope St. John Paul II would not have forgiven Mehmet Ali Agca, his Turkish would-be assassin, at St. Peter’s Square.
Changing the nature of police work
The summary execution of suspects tarnishes the character and reputation of the police, and brings them down to the level of criminals. It changes the nature of police work altogether. By definition, police work, as practiced in civilized countries around the world, involves the maintenance of law and order by enforcing the law and solving every crime, by gathering the evidence against suspects and using them at the proper forum to prosecute and punish the offender. This is the exact opposite of the mission of the military in dealing with an armed enemy, which is to pursue or search and destroy.
In pursuing his war on drugs, PDU30 appears to have given the police a military role. He has identified all drug suspects, generally unarmed, as the enemy that must be destroyed, and the police (and vigilante assassins) as the ones that must destroy them. The most disturbing aspect of this war is the information from some police sources, who cannot openly reveal it without risking their very lives or at least their careers, that their bosses–perhaps unknown to the President–have given them a “kill quota” per week or per month.
This quota system makes it all the more perilous for an individual, wittingly or unwittingly, to become a suspect in the eyes of the law enforcers. Many will fall not because they look like a duck, or walk like a duck, but just because the duck-hunter must meet his assigned number. The whole thing could go out of hand, and push law enforcement to the brink. An international backlash could overtake domestic reaction. This should not happen.
A second look needed
DU30 needs to take a second look, a deep one, at his current campaign to prevent such a backlash from sweeping away the massive domestic support he continues to enjoy. He should help himself by listening more to constructive–and even negative–criticism, and making sure that nobody faults him for having a tunnel vision. Because drug trafficking is a transnational crime, he could perhaps invite the international agencies involved in tracking the same crime to actively cooperate in his campaign. This should also mitigate the desire of any international actor to demonize him.
He could also take a few lateral and forward steps to show that, aside from waging a war on drugs, his government is truly getting organized and moving. The odd complaint from a number of people is that although many appointments have been announced, some of these appointees do not have any appointment papers. At his inaugural, the President swore in his Cabinet in a mass oath-taking. But there was no roll call to identify who the Cabinet members were. The lack of formal appointment, though, applies more to positions below the Cabinet level.
According to one senior agency executive, the announced head of her agency comes to her office every day, but since she has not seen his appointment papers, she does not quite know how to deal with him. She would not know by what authority she would be able to process his air ticket or per diems if he were to travel to Davao “officially” to join the President. This is a simple bureaucratic problem, with a critical impact on the work of the President.
This problem threatened to overspill into the crafting of former President Fidel V. Ramos’s authority as PDU30’s special envoy to the Chinese government. It took the President’s staff several days to work on the document, and to send it to the President for his signature. But at the last minute, a proverbial fly flew into the ointment. Somebody inserted FVR’s former DILG secretary Rafael Alunan to act as Ramos’s deputy, forgetting that Alunan is barred by law from taking any government assignment for at least one year after losing in the May 9, 2016 election as a senatorial candidate.