As his term draws to a close, it seems that President Duterte is choosing to do away with what few filters he had when speaking to the public.
While preparing to return to civilian life, he has graced rallies and several miting de avance. Perhaps feeling at ease with his audience, he has spoken with increasing candor about killing.
He told son Sebastian, who is running for Davao City mayor, that if he didn’t know how to kill, he should learn fast. “If the mayor doesn’t know how to kill or is afraid to kill, you will have a big problem,” he said.
He also admitted last week, perhaps half jokingly, that he once threatened to kill his former spokesperson Harry Roque himself for criticizing extrajudicial killings (EJKs).
“It’s a truth people have to know about,” Roque reportedly said back then, and he was right. The criticism of EJKs and vigilante killings by police and military has dogged this administration from its first months. It continues to be a divisive topic, with activist groups calling for investigations into abuses by the police and military, and with security forces, like the Philippine National Police, denying the same.
This is the status of such investigations and allegations toward the end of the Duterte presidency. In February a report by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency estimated that since 2016, more than 6,000 people had been killed in antidrug operations by police. Human rights groups suggest that the number could be as high as 30,000 with most victims dying at the hands of police-associated vigilantes.
“President Rodrigo Duterte has publicly encouraged extrajudicial killings in a way that is incompatible with a genuine law enforcement operation,” the International Criminal Court Pre-Trial Chamber said in September 2021, when the ICC authorized an investigation into the so-called bloody war on drugs. Then, in an act seen by the international community as a reprehensible setback, the ICC decided to temporarily suspend its investigations by request of the Philippine government. It was a move described by EJK victims’ families as “intended to delay, frustrate and abort the ICC proceedings.”
Some Filipinos still claim that all talk of killing is black propaganda from Mr. Duterte’s detractors. Other supporters say the killings are justified, given the supposed scale of drug-related criminality and so-called terrorist activity in the country. Others disagree, and chief among them are the families left behind by victims.
Consider the families of victims like slain Bayan Muna Iloilo City coordinator Jose Reynaldo “Jory” Porquia. In the same weeks that the President made these casual references to killing, Porquia’s family commemorated the second anniversary of his death. His son Lean described the brutal killing as a “mystery,” with “no investigation from the local police — seemingly an intention to silence and bury his death through time.”
Such poorly investigated or uninvestigated violent deaths, some justified by or associated with Red-tagging of the victims, have become ubiquitous. Porquia’s name is one in a long list of deaths of progressives, critics, and activists. Years from now, one of the administration’s legacies will be how easily the word “kill” was thrown around, and how easy it is to do away with anyone accused of being a criminal, terrorist, or communist, without fair trial or even due investigation after the fact.
It is a legacy of which the President is not ashamed. Many times in his administration he has all but admitted a hand in such killings, now skirting ever closer to outright admissions, now pulling back. Even as he prepares to step down, he seems to want to continue in this legacy. He said last week that he will be back to riding on his motorcycle and roaming in search of criminals. “I’ll search for drug peddlers, shoot them and kill them,” he said during Friday’s Hugpong ng Pagbabago miting de avance.
Whoever wins in the elections, those elected must not forget this vital piece of unfinished business: the bringing to account all who enabled and facilitated such killings, and investigating the architect of this culture of death. Investigations previously aborted must continue. The Filipino voter must no longer give control to a government where progressives, critics, and activists must fear for their lives, and where innocents and petty criminals alike must fear brutality and the death of due process.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.