Justice in the time of Duterte

The Netflix series “Narcos” opens with a haunting line about the disruption of everyday reality by a surreal force of unprecedented intensity — “when a highly detailed, realistic setting is invaded by something too strange to believe.”

This was, of course, literary academic Matthew Strecher’s definition of “magical realism,” the genre practically invented by one of the 20th century’s greatest novelists, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Trained as a journalist, the Latin American writer eventually delved into fiction writing, realizing that the inscrutable madness of his country’s (Colombia) tortured history can be best, if not solely, captured through literature.


From “One Hundred Years of Solitude” (1967) to “The Autumn of the Patriarch” (1975), Marquez wielded literature as a weapon to expose the toxic cocktail of untrammeled violence, hubris and dark dictatorships that haunted and ravaged much of Latin America for centuries.

In many ways, the Philippines is increasingly resembling Marquez’s landscape of magical realism, especially with the disruptive advent of Dutertismo, an earth-shaking phenomenon that gleefully defies logic and conventional wisdom.


The dark magic and mind-boggling surrealism of contemporary Philippine politics was on full display in recent days, as the nation erupted in fury over the prospective release of one of its most notorious criminals.

Initially, when news of the potential release of convicted rapist-murderer Antonio Sanchez came out, his former counsel, current presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo, was quick to project a hands-off approach: “The Palace cannot oppose a law. The Palace can only implement the law.”

Commenting on the 2013 good conduct time allowance (GCTA) law, which was controversially amended to become retroactive by a recent Supreme Court ruling, Panelo nonchalantly discussed “automatic” implementation of the law sans intervention by higher authorities. “That’s not our turf. That’s a [Department of Justice] turf. Whatever is the law, that’s what should be followed,” Panelo said in Filipino.

Then things took a surreal turn when newbie senator Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa exposed the fundamental hypocrisy of the current zeitgeist.

“(If) it is determined by the Board of Pardon(s) and Parole that he (Sanchez) deserves that commutation, then why not?” said the senator. “He deserve(s) a second chance in life.”

This is, of course, the same person who has shown little remorse over the death of toddlers amid the scorched-earth drug war, which he previously administered and will officially defend with gusto until at least 2025. This is the same person who oversaw a drug war that has disproportionately claimed the lives of countless poor and nameless Filipinos sans due process.

Whether 1,000, 6,000 or 29,000, the fact of the matter is that the vast majority of the “deaths under investigation” concern the poorest and most defenseless Filipinos, who neither got a day in court nor a “second chance.”


And what about Eileen Sarmenta and Allan Gomez, did they get a “second chance”?

Meanwhile, with the exception of a few alleged provincial midlevel drug kingpins, has there been any real “big fish” caught under the ongoing drug war?

Unsurprisingly, both Panelo and Bato switched gears as soon as they met public wrath over the prospective release of rich and powerful criminals. Now, suddenly, one began touting the supposed virtues of the death penalty to get rid of heinous criminals once and for all (wait, I thought you believe in “second chance”?), while the other has expressed the supposed vehement opposition of Duterte to Sanchez’s release (wait, didn’t you say the executive won’t interfere?).

Yet, the episode was not an aberration, but instead the reflection of a deeply troubling mindset. Remember how proadministration folks like Sen. Manny Pacquiao were eager to call for “forgiveness” of the crimes of the Marcoses, even as they also blatantly supported a violent drug war where due process, never mind forgiveness, seemed out of the question.

And one wonders if any single major plunderer will ever be prosecuted under the current administration. Or will we just see them recycled or freed from prison?

Hypocrisy has haunted this nation for far too long. But the kind of hypocrisy we are witnessing today is of a different order of magnitude.

Is our justice system one where rich and powerful plunderers and criminals deserve a “second chance,” while mindless, indiscriminate violence against the poor and nameless is justified as the legitimate pursuit of “law and order”?

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TAGS: Antonio Sanchez, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, GCTA, Horizons, magical realism, Richard Heydarian, Rodrigo Duterte, Ronaldo dela Rosa, Salvador Panelo
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