Where are the bodies buried? | Inquirer Opinion

Where are the bodies buried?

/ 05:33 AM December 11, 2015

CANBERRA—Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte stands on the crossroads in his campaign to be elected successor to President Aquino. He faces the tough challenge of sustaining his leading position in the opinion surveys barely six months before a presidential election in which none of the five contenders can claim to have a lock on majority support. In all the presidential elections since the 1986 People Power Revolution, no candidate has ever won a 50+1 percent majority under the multiparty system. Ironically, it was Cory Aquino’s presidency, which toppled Ferdinand Marcos’ dictatorship in the 1986 snap election, that transformed the Philippine electoral system into a multiparty democracy.

So far, the only indicator Filipinos have on the presidential aspirants’ popularity standing is the surveys on voter preference. In the latest survey of the Social Weather Stations, conducted on Nov. 26-28, Duterte was preferred by 38 percent of the respondents in all socioeconomic classes and all geographic regions across the country, followed by Sen. Grace Poe and Vice President Jejomar Binay, both at 21 percent; former interior secretary Mar Roxas, 15 percent; and Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago, 4 percent.


The survey was conducted six days after Duterte declared that he would seek the presidency, and two days before the PDP-Laban party proclaimed him its presidential candidate. The survey results showed instability and fluidity, giving no candidate the assurance that their ratings would not change. Within the next five months, even the front-runner, Duterte, would have no grounds to claim that he would maintain his ratings until Election Day. He would not be able to bamboozle the electorate with the exuberant claim that the survey results foreshadow a landslide in his favor.

That outcome is far from certain today, given the contentious issues that have buffeted Duterte, linking him to the killing of suspected criminals in Davao City, allegedly by death squads related to his anticrime campaign.


Duterte made phenomenal gain in the SWS’ November survey vis-à-vis the September survey which was topped by Poe (at 26 percent) and in which he placed fourth. In the November survey, Poe slid down to second spot in a tie with Binay, who had led the opinion polls early this year and who notched 24 percent in the September survey.

Some political analysts attribute the rise in support for Duterte to his anticrime campaign. That campaign, Duterte claims, turned around the reputation of Davao, once known as one of the most crime-ridden cities in the Philippines.

But the reduction of the crime rate in Davao comes with a heavy price—the summary killing of people tagged as criminal suspects. Human rights groups have assailed Duterte for his approach of combating crime outside the ambit of the law. This approach appears to encourage extrajudicial killings, under which regime the mayor is said to order his police officers to “shoot to kill” persons ranging from suspected drug pushers to rice smugglers.

Despite reports by Human Rights Watch that Davao City has had high numbers of “death squad” killings (more than 1,000 since the late 1990s), as well as calls by human rights groups, both foreign and local, for the government not only to stop the killings but also to investigate Duterte’s role in it, the mayor has made no accounting of where the corpses of the victims are buried.

In interviews with the media, Duterte has admitted links with the death squad, and even his own killing of “criminals.” He can no longer be defiant of the growing public clamor for his accountability for the killings. The more he ignores it, the louder it grows, and the more it will haunt him. As the presidential election approaches, he will find it more and more difficult not to be crushed by the demand for respect for human rights and the criticism of his inclination for authoritarian methods of governance.

In these same interviews, he has made no secret of his admiration for the Marcos dictatorship as a model of authoritarian rule. He thinks it is worthy of emulation, for being a means to deliver speedy or instant results even at the expense of executing opponents of the regime or those standing in its way. It should be ignored.

Duterte is not only seeking the presidency; more importantly, he is seeking the replication of the Davao experiment of the Holocaust on a national scale, using the presidential powers of coercion to implement a vast project driven by the doctrine underpinned by state-sponsored violence. This is what makes his bid for the presidency so dangerous: It is a step toward a ruthless dictatorship, whose platform for governance is built on violence.


Among the contenders for the presidency, Duterte stands out as an exponent of violence as the centerpiece of a program of government. It is a mystery why, despite signs that he is driving this country toward a path paved with the corpses of numerous victims of human rights violations, he is topping the opinion surveys.

If the survey ratings are accurate, we are warned that we are heading to the precipice of no return. And the question persists: Where are the bodies buried?

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TAGS: 1986 People Power Revolution, Davao, Davao City, Elections 2016, extra-judicial killings, Ferdinand Marcos, Rodrigo Duterte
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