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The Long View

Divided among themselves

Year Two of the Era of Duterte brings more of the same. Rinse, lather, repeat the greatest hits: a resumption of the war on vagrancy (recall how the New Era had been announced with curfews, until the Supreme Court handed down a TRO versus Quezon City in 2016, only to uphold the curfew last year) with thousands rounded up by the police; renewed assaults on the clergy (once you’ve sneered at the pope, what is a bullet-ridden priest or two?); and, two days ago, more political murder justified on the basis of the war on drugs.

While academe has only recently managed to partially digest the catalog of killings in the so-called war on drugs (as of 2017), it’s the assassination of Tanauan Mayor Antonio Halili that’s seized public attention. From comments on social media, it seems Halili had his fair share of admirers who considered his leadership firm and dynamic. These constituents admired him for many of the same reasons the President is admired by his supporters: He was considered a political outsider who was good for business, and uncompromising when it came to public order and security, having established a 70-strong “anticrime group” composed of officials dressed in black who patrolled the city’s streets starting in 2014.

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Critics, for their part, denounced his “walk of shame” stunts, during which people accused of peddling drugs were paraded around town wearing placards, in scenes resembling China’s Cultural Revolution.

Supporters and detractors alike condemned the mayor’s assassination. The Palace responded with the expected platitudes about justice being served and the late mayor being a staunch ally of the President. The PNP’s Calabarzon director went through the usual motions of announcing the formation of a special task force to investigate the assassination. Quite a few of the mayor’s supporters said the assassination must have been the doing of drug syndicates angry over the mayor’s antidrug moves.

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Now, these supporters are dazed and confused in the aftermath of the President’s response to Halili’s assassination. The mayor, the President growled yesterday, was only going through the motions of fighting drugs; he was actually involved in the drug trade.

And, so, the President belied everything the Palace had said (his spokesperson might think Halili was an ally; the President said otherwise). In addition, he placed the PNP in a quandary over what it could possibly announce at the end of its investigation. At one point, when the President said “I don’t know who did the killing,” the audience laughed. Careerists in the police have no sense of humor and are more likely to view this presidential pronouncement as the first draft of their fact-finding report.

After all, Halili was long in the President’s sights, so to speak. And he’s hardly been coy about mobilizing local officials to help him settle political scores. A couple of days earlier, the President marked his second year in office with a speech to vice mayors kidding them that he could out-gangster any gangster, and advising the vice mayors to kidnap mayors who, he said, he intended to remove from office anyway if they didn’t meet his standards when it comes to combating criminality.

The public information officer of Tanauan told media that death threats against Halili increased after November 2017, when the mayor was included in the President’s list of narcopoliticians. The mayor had been deprived of his authority over the local police in October of that year, which some of his online supporters said made the mayor a vulnerable target.

But where the mayor’s grief-stricken supporters were prepared to think the mayor was an allied casualty in the President’s drug campaign, these same supporters have now been confronted with the President’s refusal to consider the idea. These supporters have lashed out at the President they once liked for the same reasons they had liked their mayor. So they have taken to denouncing the President for cowardice, saying he was slandering the dead, while having been unable to do anything about the man while he was still alive.

A curious state of affairs, but one which highlights the internal contradictions of the President’s pet campaign.

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TAGS: Antonio Halili, drug killings, Duterte's second year, EJKs, extrajudicial killings, Manuel L. Quezon III, Rodrigo Duterte, The Long View, war on drugs
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