Duterte seeks free hand to genocide
In his inaugural speech, President Rodrigo Duterte sought a free hand from Congress and the Commission on Human Rights to allow him a “level of governance consistent (with) our mandate” to pursue a “relentless and sustained” campaign against criminals.
As mayor of Davao City, Duterte was linked to the vigilante Davao Death Squad. Campaigning for the presidency, he said that as president, he would continue—on a national scale—his controversial method of fighting criminality. He issued the grim warning with the assurance that, as a lawyer and former prosecutor, “I know what is legal and what is not. My adherence to due process and rule of law is uncompromising.”
Instead of calming public fears,” Duterte raised more concerns that the “free hand” he was seeking would only open the door to a genocidal bloodbath of epic proportions yet unseen in a presidential transition in the Philippines. Prior to his inaugural address, Duterte made provocative statements exhorting all policemen to kill suspected drug dealers if they persisted trading in illegal drugs, even offering rewards.
In the wake of these statements, the Inquirer reported a sudden surge in the killing of suspected drug dealers even before he assumed the presidency. No less than 25 suspected drug dealers were killed in just five days of police operations across the country—that’s five drug suspects “neutralized” by the police each day. Duterte’s all-out war on drug dealers has, this early in his administration, already exacted a heavy toll of victims, triggering outrage among human rights lawyers and opposition senators.
For instance, Jose Manuel Diokno, chair of the Free Legal Assistance Group, warned: “President Duterte’s war on crime has spawned a nuclear of violence that is spiraling out of control and creating a nation without judges, without law and without reason.” Diokno likened the drug dealers’ deaths to the state killings recorded during the regime of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, to which has been attributed the killing of thousands of dissidents in the 20 years he was in power. The Marcos dictatorship ended when it was toppled by the People Power Revolution in 1986.
Another lawmaker, Rep. Teddy Baguilat, denounced Duterte’s inflammatory rhetoric of “breeding a culture of violence and of retribution.” Baguilat and Sen. Leila de Lima, the justice secretary in the immediately preceding Aquino administration, are spearheading the move in Congress to investigate the drug killings. The spate of drug killings has developed into a storm center of issues against the Duterte administration. The President himself is fast acquiring a reputation as a butcher whose ideology is based on the theme of violence and on dead body count, not on promoting economic growth that creates jobs that help reduce poverty.
The biggest casualty of Duterte’s war on crime is the constitutional principles of the rule of law and due process. These principles underpin the judicial system that is now being assaulted by the summary extrajudicial executions being carried out by a parochial and warlord regime which grew out of the hinterlands of Davao City, and which he is now translating—on national scale—into a “cult of Duterte.” The new President, in pursuing his anticrime campaign, is the epitome of the practice in which a black list of suspected drug dealers—targeted for rubouts by law enforcement authorities, if not by state-sponsored death squads—is prepared. This anticrime approach has already created tensions in the Philippine National Police and has put its new chief, Ronald “Bato” de la Rosa, in a bind.
When asked by journalists in a press conference, which he would follow—the orders of President Duterte or due process and the rule of law—De la Rosa replied that it was as if he was caught “between the devil and the blue sea.” He tried to move out of the question by saying, “I’m a great balancer… I will balance in such a way that I will be able to follow Mayor Duterte and follow the law.” He can always jump into the sea, I suppose. After all, he knows how to swim.
Don’t forget that “Bato” was chief of police of Davao City during the term of Mayor Duterte. We presume that as a veteran and senior law enforcer, Bato knows his law and he should know what lawful orders are. That’s now his call: to choose between duty and loyalty to Duterte. This poses a dilemma for him. After all, Duterte cannot be president for life.
Six years hence, Duterte will become a footnote of history. Bato does not need to tie his career to the legacy of Duterte—which could be ignominious.
Amando Doronila was a regular columnist of the Inquirer from 1994 to May 2016.
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