The genie is out of the bottle | Inquirer Opinion

The genie is out of the bottle

/ 12:13 AM January 16, 2017

The dreaded genie that uses powers emanating from the barrel of a gun is out of the bottle. And what bloody mayhem it has brought to Philippine society.

With “Operation Tokhang” as incantation, President Duterte has opened the bottle containing the genie that allegorically represents a police force imbued with a mindset that its members possess unrestrained powers to preserve life or cause death in this country.


This is not the first time that the genie was let out of the bottle. The dictator Ferdinand Marcos released this genie when he imposed martial law in September 1972, and it went on to terrorize the country until Marcos was ousted as a result of the 1986 people power revolution.

Marcos gave both the police and the military unhampered powers to search, arrest, and detain citizens during his martial rule. In those dark years, the military and the police were suffused with an arrogant attitude that they had immunity from liability for human rights abuses they committed against the people.


After Marcos instilled in the minds of the police and the military that they possessed supreme authority over civilians, it became very difficult to control their abuses against the people. It was almost impossible to put the genie back in the bottle.

As a result, more than 70,000 civilians were imprisoned, 34,000 were tortured, at least 3,240 were killed, and numerous incidents of rape and sexual molestation were committed by the police and the military during the Marcos dictatorship.

It required a successful revolution just to start the struggle to force the dreaded genie back into the bottle. It was a protracted process that lasted for many years—to make the police and the military embrace their duty to serve as protectors, and not oppressors, of the people.

The police and the military were slow to shed the habit of misusing power. The military launched 10 coup attempts, from 1986 to 1990, to wrest back power from civilian authority, military operatives murdered activist leaders such as Rolando Olalia and Lean Alejandro, and policemen shot at and killed a number of hapless farmers protesting in Mendiola near Malacañang.

Nevertheless, there was gradual progress in bolstering respect for human rights in the hearts and minds of the police and the military.

Before Mr. Duterte became president, respect for human rights among the police and the military had attained its highest level since the martial law years (although there was still much room for improvement). But when he assumed the presidency, he uncorked the bottle and released the dreaded genie again. In just six months, policemen swiftly reverted back to their cold-blooded and brutal ways, egged on by the President’s assurance of protection.

Already, we hear of numerous complaints of summary execution perpetrated by policemen, even as they cloak these incidents as killings necessitated by self-defense. Masked killers commit murder in broad daylight, with the silent complicity and telling inaction of policemen. Police officers involved in the war on drugs kidnapped Korean and Chinese businessmen and extorted ransom from their families. Policemen arrest and detain people in poor communities on fabricated drug charges, and release them upon payment of extorted amounts. A mayor of a town in Leyte who could name police officers in cahoots with drug syndicates—because he himself was a drug lord—was murdered and silenced by policemen even while he was already in government custody.


These incidents may be proof of a fast-developing police culture that harks back to the days of martial law—or these may already be the tip of a frightening iceberg.

The killings that are taking place daily in our country will constitute one dark legacy of the Duterte administration. But a far worse legacy is to leave the dreaded genie out of the bottle, perpetrating murder and mayhem far beyond the Duterte presidency.

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TAGS: campaign against illegal drugs, drug killings, extrajudicial killings, Ferdinand Marcos, Flea Market of Ideas, human-rights violations, Joel Ruiz Butuya, martial law, military abuses, Operation Tokhang, police abuses, Rodrigo Duterte, summary executions, war on drugs
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