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Dirty finger drill

“DO NOT be afraid of going slowly. Be afraid only of standing still.” Organizations of Filipino-Chinese businessmen in Davao City pegged that axiom in their newspaper ad deploring “unfortunate events, in the past weeks…. (These) make our resolve stronger… to move forward.”

What “unfortunate events”? Did that refer to Davao Mayor Sara Duterte, on nationwide TV, punching court sheriff Abe Andres, for serving a demolition order on illegal settlers? “It wasn’t my best day,” rued the lady.

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Davaweños feel safer with bare-knuckle enforcement, insist the ads trotted out by “Inday” Sara’s green-ribboned supporters. Filipino businessmen and Chinoy groups were more circumspect. Their ads savored instead “a blanket of security provided by a strong leadership…”

The Supreme Court and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines launched probes of the sheriff’s mauling. Malacañang still has to act on the swift probe concluded by Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo. The ombudsman lobbed the charges filed by the national organization of sheriffs to its Mindanao office.

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Mayor “Inday Sara,” meanwhile, returned to office from a leave. Don’t apologize, Vice Mayor Rodrigo Duterte counseled his daughter. He flashed a dirty finger to express his opinion of the critics. Son Paul is a city councilor. “Eto,” he snapped, flagging a junior version of the senior’s act of defiance. “All those in favor, raise your middle finger,” bloggers wisecracked.

“This père et fils charade evokes images of Haiti’s ‘Papa Doc’ and ‘Baby Doc’,” Dr. Carolina Camara of Butuan City wrote. “Jean Claude Duvalier, who misruled Haiti from 1971 to 1986, copied Papa Doc’s trampling on human rights.”

No. Davao is not Port au Prince. Nonetheless, today’s to-and-fro in newspaper ads underscores the worrisome context: This city remains a haven for Latin American-style esquadrones de la muerte (death squads).

Death squads in Davao rubbed out over 300 people, claims Amnesty International. Blame the weak political and social institutions, and a  corrupt, ineffective judicial system that interlocked with Ferdinand Marcos’ legacy of salvaging, witnesses told the US Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs. Crippled by serial scandals, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s regime morphed into a “paper tiger” on killings.

“The Mayor of Davao City (Rodrigo Duterte) has done nothing to prevent these killings,” the United Nations Human Rights Council’s 11th session pointed out. His “public comments suggest that he is, in fact, supportive.”

“Here in Davao, you can’t go out alive,” Duterte erpat said after a notorious drug lord’s release in Manila. “You can go out, but inside a coffin. Is that what you call extrajudicial killing? Then I will just bring a drug lord to a judge and kill him there. That will no longer be extrajudicial.”

Swagger sits well with some people. “Business improved with stability,” businessmen earlier told Reuters-Dow Jones. Some whisper to the press, on a “not-for-attribution” basis: we back (i.e., bankroll) murder with a “wink policy.”

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About 16 percent of those “salvaged” in Davao were between 13 and 17 years of age. “Nowhere in the world is the killing of minors acceptable,” then-Human Rights Commissioner Leila de Lima told a 2009 Davao conference. “Tell us the truth…. I noticed that you looked at one another.”

But no one spoke up then. Few even clear their throats now. The body count, meanwhile, rises. Is it 814 today? Even the Duterte père et fils, let alone the daughter, can’t say how many.  “If murder is forgiven, Heaven will find it hard to bear,” a Chinese proverb puts it.

“Davao’s police haven’t solved a single vigilante killing in over a decade,” noted Viewpoint (Inquirer, 4/2/09). “That  is a stunning record of failure. (It) ranks Davao alongside Sudan, Zimbabwe and Chile under Augusto Pinochet. Or is this a record of complicity?”

The consequences of such institutional corrosion spill beyond city limits. There have been copycat slayings elsewhere. Under Mayor Tomas Osmeña, Cebu acquired an unsavory “second stringer to Davao” reputation.

Osmeña created a “Hunters’ Squad and dangled P20,000” to any policeman who’d “permanently disable any criminal.” “Philanthropy wasn’t one of Osmeña’s virtues.” Sun Star asked. “Where would these shekels come from?”

Some businessmen chipped in, underground grapevine claims. The bulk of the funds vanished, along the pipeline, to motorcycle-riding vigilantes who whacked even ex-cons restarting lives. The press stopped counting after 183 were gunned down. No one has been convicted.

“There is a surreal human propensity to prop up teetering positions of privilege with the pain of vulnerable people,” warned Harvard University’s Harvey Cox. Thus, some in Davao, Cebu and elsewhere share a willingness to lay down lives. The lives of others, of course. Not their own. Or their children’s.

The right of ex-convicts or street children end, they argue sub-rosa, where their pockets begin. Greater love than this no one has than to lay down your neighbor’s life for your bank balance.

Vigilante-backers prefer to slink in the shadows. This is understandable. Those who fund, cheer or assent by silence, smear blood on their hands. “There’s the smell of blood still,” Lady Macbeth wailed after murdering the king. “All the perfume in Arabia will not clean this little hand.”

Coddling killers, even for a cause, creates Frankensteins that not even mayors can control. An Internet debate rages, meanwhile, on what that dirty finger drill means to our grandchildren. A blogger quotes a Chinese proverb: “To use violence is to already be defeated.”

(E-mail: [email protected] )

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