There’s the Rub

Horror story

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THE EXPLANATION itself is surreal. “I told them,” Davao City Vice Mayor Rodrigo Duterte said, “to be careful because (suspected carjacking leader, Ryan Yu, alias) Baktin is armed and dangerous…. If he surrenders peacefully, that does not involve danger. But once he is arrested and he resists and gets killed, that involves danger to the lives of the arresting officers. That’s why the reward is doubled. I decided to add P1 million more because once he is dead, you cannot bring the body without putting yourself in jeopardy; you’re carrying P5-million worth of baggage in your hands.”

“The reward (on Baktin’s head), dead or alive, that’s legal,” Duterte said. “Do not castrate the government,” he begged Commission on Human Rights Chair Etta Rosales, who has remonstrated with him on this. “That will make us impotent to fight crime. Do not do that to my city.”

Surreal as this is, it’s just a pale echo of the original. “Two million ako kapag buhay si Ryan. Kapag pinatay ninyo, four million ’yan. ’Pag dinala ninyo ang ulo, balutin lang niyo sa ice, dagdagan ko ng one million sa campaign funds … so it’s five million.” (“P2 million if you capture Ryan alive. P4 million if you kill him. You bring his head in—just wrap it in ice—I’ll throw in another million from my campaign funds.”)

Can anyone in his right mind—or in his wrong one, since you have to wonder at the type of characters this will draw to the hunt—possibly miss the meaning of this? Can anyone in his right mind—or in his wrong one, given that this was issued by a high-ranking public official—possibly not know the meaning of this? Of course it is illegal. You offer a bounty for information that leads to the capture of a fugitive, that’s legal. You offer a bounty for the head of a fugitive, you should be jailed.

Make no mistake about it: That is an open invitation to murder. And a huge one, given the size of the bounty and the destitution of the invitees. You can get P5 million instead of P2 million to bring a guy in dead rather than alive, would you bother to bring him alive? Indeed, you can get P5 million instead of P4 million to bring a guy in not just dead but missing his head, or his body, would you not lop off his head while he is in the toilet? And say afterward that he resisted because when you called out to him he turned around and attacked you with his piss? I don’t know how much ice costs in Davao, but surely it’s a negligible deduction from P5 million and worth the investment. The bizarreness of it all lends itself to morbid humor.

I was tempted to say that Duterte has been watching too many Clint Eastwood movies, but it struck me that the more direct inspiration for this comes from another movie. One directed by Sam Peckinpah, who made a fetish of violence, called, “Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia.” That is what this is, Duterte saying, “Bring me the head of Ryan Yu,” without any of Peckinpah’s artfulness, with only the muck, sordidness and mindlessness of sick life.

Duterte gets away with this, and heaven help the Davaoeños. Hell, Duterte gets away with this, and heaven help us. What’s to stop other mayors from doing the same thing? Arguably, Davao is a rough place, as indeed most places far from the capital are, and needs tough law enforcers. But there’s a difference between tough and murderous. There’s a difference between tough and ruthless. Telling people, “Bring me the head of So-and-So” is not tough, it is idiotic.

It is idiotic because it makes the public official judge, jury, and executioner. Which makes him far more frightening than the carjacker you started out with. Which makes him far more frightening than the criminals you started out with. You turn a public official into judge, jury and executioner, and he becomes a worse criminal than the one he means to hunt down.

We do not have to look far to see that. Ferdinand Marcos was judge, jury and executioner, and he boasted that he was able to stop crime during martial law. In fact, he did not. He turned thieving, kidnapping and murdering into the country’s favorite pastimes. That is quite apart from turning government into the biggest criminal in the country. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Make no mistake about it as well, since the Dutertes of this world keep making that mistake and dragging the world into it: Human rights are not there to protect the criminals, human rights are there to protect the citizens. Human rights do not castrate government—psychologists should look into Duterte’s fetish with decapitation—they assure that government remains potent and doesn’t just get off on dead bodies, or headless ones. Governments start ignoring human rights and they do not fight crime, they add—monumentally—to it. They become the biggest criminal syndicate of all. Do not do that to your city.

And in fact, there is an alternative to all this, which we saw quite luminously in the example Jesse Robredo gave in how to run a local government. Naga City is one of the most peaceful cities in the country, a thing Robredo made possible not by offering bounties for people he presumed to be criminals and sentenced to death. Arguably, Naga City is not the refuge of the halang ang kaluluwa, but that is so in the first place because its officials chose to give the seemingly irredeemable a glimpse of soul and not to separate it from their bodies. Naga, like Davao, saw its share of violence in the war against martial law, but it never produced the Alsa Masa and mayors like Duterte. As Robredo showed with his tsinelas politics, you can always advance governance, including peace and order, by enlisting the aid not of bounty hunters but of the people.

That is one scary horror story for Undas, Duterte.

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