IT is one year, to the day, since the nation came under the spell of President Rodrigo Duterte. He has changed the presidency and the nation as he had promised, except that only his corporate, political and media cronies, choir and echo chamber seem inclined to believe the change has been for the better.
Is the DU30 we see and hear today the same DU30 whom 38 percent of our voters picked in May 2016 over his four other rivals?
Are his supporters today the same guys who thought they had found a savior who would serve the truth, justice and the rule of law, and liberate the poor from poverty?
Are the values DU30 is willing and ready to kill for the same as those which believers and non-believers alike are willing and ready to die for?
Beyond drugs and Marawi
These questions go beyond the drug war and the siege of Marawi City in Lanao del Sur. But they are among the more fundamental questions we should ask in trying to determine, from the nation’s vantage point, whether DU30’s first year has been a success or a failure.
I have more than a workaday personal interest in this particular discussion. For on the day DU30’s minions danced in the streets to celebrate his descent from the skies of Davao, I asked my friends at the National Transformation Council what could possibly happen if after all the hoopla, the much-reviled B.S. Aquino 3rd ultimately turned out to be a much lesser evil than his lustily cheered successor?
This seemed absolutely unimaginable; no way, I thought, it could happen. PNoy, as everyone had learned to call him, outdistanced his own mother’s failures. But after my efforts to unmask a non-Filipino pretender to the presidency helped clear the way for the durian-eating gunslinger from Davao, I could not avoid one curiosity. Thus, I posed what sounded as an absurd and irreverent question.
Prophet of doom
Now, 12 months later, my friends who had laughed heartily at my irreverence think I could not have made a more prescient prediction. Where a famous economist friend of mine has been called a “Prophet of Boom,” for consistently predicting the country’s sound economic growth despite its serious political flaws, my friends now call me a “Prophet of Doom.” True to my fears, the past year brought us moral, political and legal aberrations beyond our wildest apprehensions.
DU30 has repeatedly promised to be harsh. And with his offensive mouth and iron hand, he has proved to be much harsher, much more brutal, much more egocentric, much more power-driven—and his trolls and sycophants so much more unthinking and fanatical—than anyone could ever have imagined. Killing has become his first and often only solution to his problems, whether it was the drug suspects or the Mautes in the current Marawi siege.
“He has a hammer and everything is a nail,” says former Defense Assistant Secretary Ruben Carranza, of the New York-based International Center for Transitional Justice, in a recent CNN interview with Christiane Amanpour.
I would retouch this particularly arresting imagery a bit to say “he sees himself as a hammer and everything else as a nail.” Both in the drug war and in the military campaign against the Islamic State-linked Mautes in Marawi, “kill, kill, kill” is the first order that comes from the Commander in Chief’s mouth even when there seems to be a clear opportunity of not having to kill.
All those killings
In the war on drugs which began on the day he took office, the killing is reported to have already claimed more than 8,000 lives, none of which appears to have been documented except the murder of Mayor Rolando Espinosa of Albuera, Leyte on December 6, 2016, inside his detention cell at the sub-provincial jail in Baybay, Leyte, by a team of policemen from Tacloban, the capital city, at 4 a.m.
The team, led by Police Supt. Marvin Marcos, with 18 others, has been charged with murder, a non-bailable offense, but the Department of Justice has downgraded the charges and authorized bail for all, raising indignant protests from the public.
A communication filed by lawyer Jude Sabio from Mindanao before the International Criminal Court at The Hague claims that DU30 was responsible for 9,400 killings by the Davao Death Squad since he was mayor of Davao City in 1988. The communication is supported by the Magdalo group led by Sen. Antonio Trillanes 4th and Rep. Gary Alejano, who had earlier filed an impeachment complaint against DU30, which the President’s allies dismissed without a hearing at the House committee on justice. It is awaiting action from ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda’s office.
DU30 has remained unmoved despite the plea of many who support his war on drugs, but oppose the summary killing of suspects. He has lately begun saying that the drug lords, none of whom have been identified, arrested or killed, are funding the terrorists.
Terrorism as a defense?
Whether or not this has any basis, DU30 seems to be preparing his defense against the ICC complaint. By accusing the unnamed drug lords of funding the terrorists, he could try to justify killing the drug suspects, even though these were mostly barefoot pushers or users, rather than drug lords of Pablo Escobar’s type.
In Marawi, where the fighting continues despite the long-elapsed self-imposed military deadlines, DU30 has ordered his troops not to hesitate killing, just because of the presence of civilians in the combat zone. This is consistent with his position not to negotiate for the peaceful surrender of any terrorist or a swap of prisoners involving any hostages by the Mautes and the parents of the Maute brothers who had been arrested by the authorities. DU30 appears determined to eliminate the enemy to the last man.
Some Mindanao observers point out that this approach could work with the Tausugs of Sulu, who belong to the warrior class and are normally prepared to fight to the very end. But the Maranaws of Lanao del Sur are normally a trading class and prone to negotiations as a way of settling conflict. DU30’s decision to reject all negotiations could radicalize their community, instead of encouraging them to work with government in rebuilding Marawi.
DU30 has to be reminded, these observers point out, that Marawi could not be rebuilt simply by pouring money (P10 billion or P20 billion) into the city, to which China has already contributed P15 million aside from some firearms and ammo with which to fight the Mautes, but by strengthening the roots of the community.
How Marawi will rise again
The new Marami will rise not on any new infrastructure but on the new sense of solidarity among the Maranaws, the observers insist. And this will be done not by radicals, but by moderates.
There appears to be a growing anxiety that DU30 does not fully understand this.
In the Carranza-Amanpour interview, the CNN anchor asked, “Where is the Philippines going under this President?” This is a question for all Filipinos.
Carranza, who has a master’s degree in global public service law from New York University, and works with victims’ communities and reparations policymakers not only in the Philippines but also in Nepal, Timor Leste, Indonesia, Palestine, Liberia, Ghana, South Africa and Kenya, as well as with some war crimes tribunals like the ICC and the Extraordinary Chambers in the courts of Cambodia, expressed concern about DU30’s rising authoritarianism, the growing violence, the silencing of the opposition, and the vulnerability of elective officials to arbitrary replacement.
To this critic, DU30’s governing style has created an atmosphere of instability which has fed more violence. Despite his attempt to take absolute control of government, DU30 has failed not only to decisively take over Marawi, but also to provide the necessary national leadership.
Failure to lead
“There is a vacuum of leadership when leadership is needed the most,” he said. “DU30 has a lot to answer for.”
I don’t have the time nor the space now to discuss the serious foreign policy questions, involving our complex relations with the United States, China, Japan, Australia, Canada, the European Union, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which DU30 has tried to fiddle with to gain some international attention. This requires a particular focus, which cannot be done in a few soundbites. This will therefore have to wait.
But we cannot judge DU30’s first year without passing upon the moral question. This is the all-important question. Everything else flows from this.
There was a deliberate effort on the part of this President to shut down what is right and good and lawful, beginning with plain good manners, in favor of what is outrageous, illegal and wrong, beginning with fake news, sexual license, and killing.
Under DU30’s spell, many of our people learned to applaud what they used to abhor and to despise what they once held sacred and inviolable. They lost their vision of the good they must live and fight for, and replaced it with what the powers of darkness have placed in the hands of this President.
Never has there been a time in our history when three of the four highest officials of the executive and the legislative departments led openly amoral, if not immoral, lives. And they expect to be allowed to continue to lead?
DU30 came upon a sick society when he became President on June 30, 2016. He made it sicker still after a year. Whatever problems he may have about his own health, which he wants to keep to himself, our problems with him, and the nation’s health are infinitely graver. What kind of courage will it take for anyone of us to say we can afford to remain this sick for the next five years?