Thugs, myths, and the making of a rogue state | Inquirer Opinion

Thugs, myths, and the making of a rogue state

The recent confession of retired police officer Arthur  Lascañas that there really was a Davao Death Squad, and that then Mayor Rodrigo Duterte ordered and paid him and other hitmen to kill hundreds of criminals and opponents, once again exposes to full view the nature of the powers that rule over us.

Lascañas recanted his previous denial of the existence of the DDS and corroborated confessed hitman Edgar Matobato’s earlier testimony. His explosive revelations paint a picture of a leadership whose vast carelessness about human life and the rule of law has steadily degraded and pulled down this nation to a level approaching the refractory lawlessness of a rogue state.


To be sure, there will be an avalanche of “alternative facts,” including a portrayal of the allegations as part of a paid chorus emitting a “larger noise” from those plotting to unseat the President. But, like Matobato, Lascañas has everything to lose and nothing to gain from this confession. In doing so, the man subjects himself to charges of perjury and multiple murder, on top of the clear and ever present danger of being killed himself by operatives hunting him down in the dead of night, cloaked invincibly by state power.

Worth noting in this narrative is the motivation disclosed by Lascañas himself: He wishes to put an end to his “blind obedience and loyalty” to Mr. Duterte. Those of us who have managed not to get mesmerized by Mr. Duterte’s populist despotism have been wondering about this almost-Faustian power to evoke absolute allegiance, a loyalty that brooks no dissent, defies rationality, and exacts a hard obedience that leads people to death.


Social science tells us that this may be due to the power of myth-making, the spinning of public and large-scale narratives that shape our beliefs and serve as lenses in interpreting the world as we experience it.

One such myth is the utilitarian notion that one or two lives may be sacrificed “for the greater good of the greater number,” as against the Christian tradition’s insistence on the inviolable dignity and value of every human being, whether a poor drug addict or a respectable and peaceable citizen. Another is the idea that the end justifies the means, or that politics is the art of the possible and therefore ethical considerations and such ideals as integrity, honesty, and mercy are out of court and can be set aside or relegated to the cloisters or privatized into a merely personal religion.

Most pervasive is the myth of the strongman—Nietzsche’s idea of a “Superman” who is a law unto himself, put to a test by Dostoyevsky’s character Raskolnikov in “Crime and Punishment.” Thinking that to the likes of him “everything is permitted,” he murders an old hag that he deems useless to society.

He then suffers like any other human being who commits a crime. Tortured by his conscience and wracked by guilt, he eventually confesses.

Men like Lascañas and Matobato may be hardened criminals, but human nature is such that there is that quirky part of us that eventually wants to come out into the light, even at great cost.

There will be those who will do everything to cast doubt on their stories. Like Matobato before him, Lascañas shall be surrounded by lawyerly witch hunters quick to pounce on every little technical detail that smells faintly of inconsistency.

As for the rest of us, we are likely to continue to be wrapped in what the French sociologist Jacques Ellul calls “shadows”—those phantom images conjured by trolls anonymous and master-controlled from a power center whose nature is such that it reduces once decent human beings to fact-bending machines, translating on auto mode what the Great One must have said.


It is time to wake up from our collective stupor, and shake off the fog of myths that surround us like an ectoplasmic mist that has gone viral, a general contamination that is keeping us neutralized, or beguiled into acquiescence by a regime whose leadership is looking more and more like a gang of thugs.

In the clarity of daylight, let us do another Walk, this time that “the truth will out, and the lie rot,” and that the demonic be unmasked even as it poses as an angel of light.

Dr. Melba Padilla Maggay is a social anthropologist and consultant on the interface of culture, religion and development.

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