Tough | Inquirer Opinion
There’s the Rub


/ 01:00 AM February 13, 2014

I share Carlos Conde’s sentiments completely. Conde is the Philippine researcher for Human Rights Watch, Asia division, and he complains bitterly about Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte’s remarks at the Senate and the senators’ response to them.

Asked what he would do if he saw Davidson Bangayan aka David Tan in Davao City, Duterte replied: “If this guy would go to Davao and start to unload at nakita ko na nandyan sya (and I see him there)… I will gladly kill him… I’ll do it for my country…. I don’t mind going to prison. Matanda na rin ako, marami na rin akong sakit… (I’m old and have a lot of ailments).”


“Duterte’s threat was appalling,” Conde said. “But equally disturbing was the lack of condemnation by the lawmakers…. Duterte is the embodiment of impunity in the Philippines. His mayoralty has coincided with the operation of death squads in the city that had killed hundreds of drug dealers, petty criminals and street children since 1998…. The killings continue.”

Conde took exception to Sen. Cynthia Villar’s remark that “in Mindanao you have to be tough because if not, there will be several abuses.” And though the other senators did not express the same enthusiasm for Duterte’s proposed course of action, Conde said, they did not condemn it either.


I caught a bit of the Senate hearing on TV, and I, too, was astonished by it. It was bad enough that Duterte had the gall to propose to murder someone he deemed a criminal in the halls of the Senate, halls that have traditionally gone with the adjective “august,” it was worse that the senators in attendance met it largely with equanimity. Indeed, what’s even worse is that the public met it with even more equanimity, if not, one suspects, with approval. If Conde had not spoken up, that atrocity would have gone unnoticed.

Again, let’s be very clear about it. Is smuggling rampant in this country? Is corruption rampant in this country? Is criminality rampant in this country?

Yes to all the above.

But is the solution to allow mayors to become judge, jury and executioner of people they perceive to be criminals? Is the solution to give public officials, elective or appointive, local or national, the power to salvage people they perceive to be smugglers and thieves? Is the solution to turn a blind eye to, or cast an approving one on, the Dutertes of this world when they propose to rid the world of pests and actually carry it out?

No to all the above. That is a solution that’s worse than the problem. That doesn’t lessen criminality, that adds to criminality.

At the very least, why should Duterte alone have the right to execute people he regards as criminals, dregs of the earth, halang ang kaluluwa? Why not any and every mayor in the country? Because he, more than others, shows a capacity to discern innocent from guilty? Because he, more than others, limits his murders only to those who are “patently” guilty of crimes? Well, if so, why doesn’t he propose to murder the Ampatuans and cohorts for being patently guilty of the most heinous crimes imaginable on the face of this earth? And actually carry it out? Why only rice smugglers, or presumed rice smugglers?

But Conde is right, what’s scary is not just Duterte speaking this way in front of the senators. What’s scary is that the senators variously see nothing wrong with it, find it only mildly reprehensible, or even see it as an unfortunate necessity. What’s still worse is that the public looks at it with amused admiration, some even proposing he run for president. He comes off as an outsized and picaresque rogue, if not indeed a tough and no-nonsense sheriff. In fact, it is no laughing matter. Mayors who salvage people they deem to be criminals do not clean up their streets, they litter them with the dead.


The fact that Duterte is willing to go to jail for ridding the world of David Tan doesn’t excuse it, or make it admirable. In Mindanao you have to be tough because if not, there will be abuses? What in hell do you call killing suspects? That is not an out-and-out abuse? You want to be tough, go after the cops who extort from drivers and businessmen. You want to be tough, go after the judges who sell decisions to those who have money. You want to be tough, go after those who salvage suspects, presuming to know who are innocent and who are guilty.

Salvaging suspects is not tough, it is lazy. Salvaging suspects is not uncompromising, it is brain-addled. Salvaging suspects does not bring peace and order, it mounts a reign of thugs.

Duterte’s antics, and the silence or approbation that has greeted it, merely advance a vicious fallacy that has held sway in this country. Which particularly riots when corruption is rife. Namely, human rights are there only to protect criminals and make life hell for law enforcers, and we will be better off without them. That people like Etta Rosales are there only to torment the Dutertes of this world, and we will be better off without them.

Well, think again. Without the human rights advocates then who struggled to end a regime dedicated to screwing human rights, we would still be feeling the boot of martial law. Without the human rights advocates now who struggle to dispel the nightmare of impunity, we would be groveling under the heel of more epic criminality. There’s only one thing worse than criminals, and it is people in power who propose to stop them criminally. The first just remain criminals, the second become tyrants, if they did not start off being already so. Marcos proposed to stop criminality and break the back of oligarchy with martial law. He succeeded only in becoming the biggest criminal this country has ever known and breaking the back of this country.

That’s not tough, that’s tough luck. For all of us.

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TAGS: david tan, Davidson Bangayan, human rights, Human Rights Watch, Mayor Duterte, Rice Smuggling, Rodrigo Duterte
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