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Warlord thuggery in Davao

Members of the Duterte political dynasty of Davao lived up to their reputation for taking the law in their own hands last week when Mayor Sara Duterte assaulted a sheriff to stop him from demolishing houses on contested property.

Duterte rushed to Barangay Soliman in Agdao on July 1 after being told that a police-backed team was about to demolish the shanties of 217 families on orders of Judge Emmanuel Carpio. She asked sheriff Abe Andres to stay the execution of the order for two more hours, saying that the angry residents were armed with darts and bladed weapons (a policeman had been hit by a dart as the team advanced). She said she did not want bloodshed. She told the team that she had asked the court as early as Thursday to delay the demolition because the residents were ready to fight back and she feared it would turn bloody.

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She summoned the sheriff and ordered the team not to proceed with the demolition. When Andres refused, she punched him twice in the face, and when he tried to evade her blows, she held him by the nape and continued punching him.

Duterte later told reporters, “I was asking for only two hours.  Two hours. Why can’t you give that to us? Why do you insist on serving the notice? Do you think the residents will just allow you to demolish their houses without them putting up a fight?”

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The residents were being evicted from a property claimed by Jaime Uy of Davao Enterprise Corp., according to the United Settlers Association.  The sheriff told the Inquirer that he had tried to evade the mayor’s blows until one of her bodyguards held him by the hands. He was bleeding in the face when the bodyguard took him to a government hospital, and was discharged after receiving medication for contusions.

Andres said he was enforcing a court order and could not yield to the mayor’s request for deferment because the demolition had been “scheduled.”  He added, “I was just doing a ministerial duty.”

The incident was carried on cable TV.

Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo has ordered an inquiry into the incident.  According to the DILG, Duterte may be charged with slight to serious misconduct, with penalties ranging from reprimand to dismissal. Robredo said Andres should file a complaint, explaining that “due process requires first that the aggrieved party file a complaint.” He said the request to delay (the demolition) by two hours was “a reasonable request.”

The question is: Will Andres file a complaint? He said he would get the consensus of his fellow sheriffs, but they face a daunting issue, given that the Dutertes are known and feared as provincial warlords who have ruled Davao with a despotic hand in their territory where they have their own law.

The Dutertes have an iron grip on Davao. The mayor’s father, former Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, is her vice mayor. A week after the incident, he was caught flashing his middle finger on TV, cursing his critics. On local TV, he told his daughter, “Inday, don’t apologize. I’m proud of you and I congratulate you. Don’t worry about it, Inday. I will let you run (for office) again so that you can do it.  If you’ll be dismissed, be proud because you were on the side of the poor. If you’ll be disbarred, you celebrate and be happy in the thought that you were protecting the rights of the people.”

Rodrigo Duterte was a six-term city mayor before his daughter was elected to take his place before he became mayor—for life. As mayor, Rodrigo was praised and condemned for his methods in a tough law and order campaign that led to a drop in Davao’s crime rate. Time magazine described him as “The Punisher” in a 2002 article, while Amnesty International assailed him for allegedly tolerating extrajudicial killings blamed on the so-called “Davao Death Squad.”  He denied responsibility for the killings and blamed gang wars for the deaths, including those of known drug trade traffickers and other crime suspects.

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Sara apparently has taken her father’s mentorship seriously and has learned the ropes of the trade, making her worthy of her father’s support. The mayor has taken a leave as tempest swirls over her head and pressures mount for administrative and criminal sanctions.

She was reported to have apologized when she announced that she was going on leave starting July 7 and was ready to face the consequences for her action. But there was little trace of remorse. “It was not my best moment,” she said, describing the incident as “an unfortunate event.”

But her protestations that the blows she inflicted on the sheriff were made on behalf of helping the poor do not shield her from possible administrative and criminal action. Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said: “The act of punching is per se a violation of law. But like any criminal act, there are mitigating circumstances. The whole context of the incident may be considered in evaluating the possible culpability of Mayor Sara Duterte.”

It cannot be gainsaid that Sara assaulted an officer of the court. The Supreme Court has launched its own inquiry to see if it should hold the mayor liable for contempt of court. Sara, who is a lawyer, could also be subject to disciplinary action by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines.

But the most disturbing aspect of the incident is that a dynasty of provincial warlords has wantonly declared themselves beyond the reach of the rule of law of the land. This cannot be tolerated, whether or not the assault was carried out in the name of the poor. What was assaulted was not just the sheriff. It is the primacy of national legal authority that is at stake in this incident.

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TAGS: court sheriff, davao punching incident, featured columns, opinion, Sara Duterte
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