Curious approach | Inquirer Opinion

Curious approach

/ 12:11 AM April 02, 2014

Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte must be fuming mad. Having recently announced that he’d kill any rice smuggler caught operating in his turf while at a hearing with august members of the Senate (who themselves were so awed at this display of bravado that they forgot they needed to uphold the republican principle that no man is allowed to take the law unto himself), he has had to grapple with the news that—what temerity—at least 64 bars of cocaine were discovered at a shipyard in Barangay Tibungco in the Bunawan district.

The drug haul, estimated to cost P306 million with each bar alone priced at P6 million, was said to be part of a container that arrived in Manila from Hong Kong last Dec. 15, and was sent to Davao on Jan. 8. The contraband was discovered only some two months later, with the original 64 bars now down to 51. In reports, Duterte was quick to say that the drugs were meant for another destination, that Davao was merely a transit point, because “there’s no market for this here… it’s too expensive.” He has followed that up by offering P100,000 for each of the 13 bars of cocaine missing from the haul, the reward to be given “without questions asked.”

And why not? As mayor, Duterte is the chief enforcer and exemplar of the laws in his city. But we are assuming that it would be of extreme interest to him to find out, at the very least, whether his theory of Davao as a transshipment point for the international drug trade is true, and who are the criminals behind it who dared sully the reputation of the city he has long touted as the safest and most law-abiding in the land. Any government official sincere about stamping out crime would welcome the chance to find out more about the shadowy drug criminal syndicates that are proliferating in the country and taking advantage not only of its porous borders, but also of its lax and often corrupt law enforcement system. Right?

Thus, “no questions asked” seems to be a recipe only for maintaining the illusion of peace and order, and not a genuine desire to get to the bottom of lawlessness and criminality. Duterte’s boast of summarily executing rice smugglers if he finds them operating in Davao suddenly seems to spare those dealing in drugs; he says those who have taken the missing 13 bars might have mistaken them for soap or have taken them “out of curiosity,” hence his no-questions-asked policy should they return the contraband.


A curious idea of law enforcement, is it not? Furnish an exculpatory reason at the outset, and treat the matter as subject to the policy whims of the mayor instead of as a grave criminal concern subject to the strict procedural and regulatory processes required of professional and transparent police work.

Duterte might justify this as being innovative and flexible in the fight against powerful and well-funded lowlifes. But what comes out of it is just how directionless and inefficient the national drive against the drug menace is, with tough-talking local executives able to design their own crime and punishment mechanisms on their mere say-so. When Duterte promises drug dealers or traffickers in his area that they’re free to return the missing cocaine bars without fear of being questioned or clapped into jail, what does the National Bureau of Investigation and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency have to say about it? Might they not be hugely interested in what those people have to reveal—how they got hold of the contraband, who do they intend to sell it to, who else are involved in the trade, how often do the shipments come in, etc?

Is not the apprehension of suspects and the extraction of information from them all covered by national regulation and reportorial requirements? But if Duterte has invoked his blanket authority to invest immunity on those turning in the illegal hoard, does that mean the NBI and PDEA are now estopped from doing their job?

This is not to cast aspersions on Duterte’s personal motivations. This is to point out that his ad hoc, emotional approach to law enforcement, and—given their collective silence so far on the matter—the apparent acquiescence of national government agencies to his pronouncements, might be more counterproductive than helpful in the campaign to root out the movers of the international drug trade in these parts. This isn’t the battle of one mayor alone, after all; Malacañang has to lead, and to crack the whip hard to put some coherence and discipline to this enormous task.

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TAGS: Davao, Davao City, Rice Smuggling, Rodrigo Duterte

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