Duterte’s violence cult takes no prisoners
DAVAO City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte has dismissed out of hand a recent warning issued by Amnesty International (AI) calling for a government investigation of alleged summary killings by vigilante death squads linked to his administration.
AI flagged the warning in the wake of the Nov. 25 results of a Social Weather Stations survey that showed him topping the list of five candidates for President in the May national election in voters’ preference.
The warning sharpened the focus of the presidential election on the Davao extrajudicial executions as central and defining issue in the polls—the state of law and order in the Philippines—shunting to the sidelines public attention on the legacy of the outgoing administration of President Aquino, who is banned by the 1987 Constitution from seeking reelection.
Mr. Aquino is struggling to leave an enduring legacy of economic and political reforms, framed by anticorruption pledges on good governance.
Unfortunately, this framework has all but been overshadowed by the fallout from the rise of crime and the flaws in the electoral and judicial system that have generated calls for authoritarian leadership offering shortcuts on legal means to eradicate the crime wave, highly pronounced by Duterte’s arbitrary and iron-fisted approach in Davao.
Fallen on deaf ears
In a statement that reflected concern over the survey results that showed a phenomenal surge in Duterte’s popularity ratings, despite the heavy toll his crackdown has inflicted on human lives and the criticism it has attracted from international and domestic human rights organizations, the Manila office of AI declared it has “long called for an investigation” of the mayor’s human rights observance record in his anticrime campaign.
Almost in despair, AI bewailed that its call appeared to have fallen on deaf ears, and lamented “the government seems to look the other way.” It said Duterte’s popularity brought about by his stance on stricter law enforcement and war against criminals should not get in the way of promoting human rights.
The mayor’s take-no-prisoners campaign against crime is claimed by his supporters to have been an effective deterrent to criminal activities, but it has also alarmed the public of the dangers of giving him sweeping arbitrary powers to kill suspects without trial if he were elected President, armed with the vast executive powers of the presidency.
AI cited the scorn heaped by Duterte on its call. When asked by reporters for comment on AI’s statement, Duterte replied, “What’s the problem with them?” He said his critics alleged the death squad killed 700, adding “that’s not enough.” Asked for a figure, he said, “1,700.”
The AI statement came as the latest wave of interventions of international human rights watchdog groups blasting Duterte’s links to the killings.
Davao Death Squad
A government witness has earlier come forward to claim that Duterte has links to the Davao Death Squad (DDS). Only recently, most of the declared candidates for President stepped up their attacks on Duterte’s human rights record, questioning his fitness and competence to provide creative and productive leadership, instead of producing dead and promoting the cult of violence and the growth of the funeral parlor industry.
The 2016 election is unique in terms of its defining theme—crime and punishment. In all presidential elections since the 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution, this is the first time that a candidate is running a campaign on the path littered with corpses of victims of his purges.
It is hard to contemplate how Duterte can sustain his lead in the polls in a campaign whose logo is the skull and crossbones. How can any candidate be elected President on a platform driven by the cult of violence, aimed at producing cadavers in death factories?
The rationale behind this macabre necropolitics scenario is best explained by Duterte’s public pronouncements when asked to spell out his programs and policies of government. Let us hear these from his own words.
For the past 22 years, Mayor Duterte has governed Davao with unbridled executive powers, which, he claimed, accounted for transforming it from the murder capital of the Philippines to “the most peaceful city in Southeast Asia.”
But, according to media reports, these claims are exaggerated. The reports have linked Duterte to the DDS, a vigilante group responsible for the execution of drug traffickers, petty criminals, gang members and other lawless elements.
According to police records, more than 7,000 people went missing between 2005 and 2008, presumed killed by the squad.
Although Duterte has never publicly endorsed the squad’s behavior, his public comments on cleaning up the streets appeared geared to condone its violent activities.
For example, in a 2012 press conference, the mayor offered a P6-million reward for whoever could bring him the head of an alleged gang leader. He offered an extra P1 million if the head could be brought in a bag of ice, “so it won’t smell so bad.”
In 2009, Duterte warned lawbreakers: “If you are a criminal or part of a syndicate that preys on the innocent people of the city, for as long as I am the mayor, you are a legitimate target of assassination.”
He has always been unapologetic about his methods. “I am 100-percent terrorist, but I am terrorizing only the drug pushers, kidnappers, holdup gangs and other criminals,” he said on TV in 2003. “Kidnappers. Drug pushers from other places. I dare you to come over here so that I can finish you off.”
Statements such as these, grab newspaper headlines and boost popularity ratings, but this approach highlights the principle in the rule of law: suspected criminals cannot be executed without first finding them guilty in court.
His war against rice smugglers raised eyebrows internationally in February 2002, when he told a Senate committee that he would “gladly kill” an accused smuggler. “I want smuggling rice in my city stopped,” he said. “But if you do not stop smuggling activities. I will kill you.”
He also issued a shoot-to-kill order on lawless elements in Davao City, and instructed security forces to shoot any looters after Supertyphoon “Yolanda” (international name: Haiyan) struck two years ago.
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