Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte has been making the news in both national and international papers lately due to his controversial statements about the notorious Davao Death Squad. In an interview with a local television program, he admitted that there is truth to the rumor linking him to the vigilante group. He even warned that if he becomes the Philippine President, the number of extrajudicial killings could rise from 1,000 to 100,000. But like a reluctant vampire, he is fighting his need for blood by avoiding being in a position to bite potential victims – he is not running for the Presidency despite the clamor from his supporters. Here are excerpts from his interview:
“But if I become president, you all better hide. I will kill all of you,” he said, addressing suspected “criminals”.“Me? They are saying that I’m part of a death squad? True, that’s true.“I do not want to commit a crime but if by chance, God will place me there, you all better watch out. That 1,000 will become 100,000. I’ll dump all of you into Manila Bay, and fatten all the fish there.”
Human rights advocates were outraged that the Mayor was so blasé about his preference for being the judge, jury and executioner when it comes to dealing with alleged criminals particularly drug lords. One would think that a person would stay mum about his role in the killing of 1000 potentially innocent victims in his jurisdiction.
What was Duterte thinking when he admitted he is part of the death squad? Was he trying to sound cocky? Was he trolling his detractors? Did he have a death wish himself? Only Duterte knows the answer to those questions. However, it is mind-boggling pondering the question of why the Mayor would want to give any reason at all for the Philippine justice department to breathe down his neck.
Speaking of the justice department, Justice Secretary Leila De Lima, a former Chairperson of the Philippine Commission on Human Rights has spoken out against Duterte’s brand of summary justice. She said Duterte should be held criminally liable for the killings that started back in 1988 when he became Mayor of Davao City for the first time. I say good luck prosecuting Duterte. De Lima could try prosecuting him but it would be hard to bring Duterte to justice. In fact, the irony of what De Lima is saying escapes her.
It’s not obvious to De Lima yet, it seems, but Duterte may have resorted to sanctioning the termination of suspected criminals in his city because he finds the justice system too slow in dealing with them. Many people not just in Davao, but also around the country agree with him, which is why they turn a blind eye to what civilized societies refer to as “human rights abuse”. Another irony here is that some people still think the Philippines is a civilized society and expect people to act civilized when it is anything but. Maguindanao massacres, anyone?
It is a bit absurd to think that the very slow justice system in the Philippines could successfully prosecute Duterte within his lifetime. Aside from his recent candid admission on local television, where will De Lima get the evidence to file the charges against him? Knowing that De Lima is more bark than bite was probably why Duterte was bold enough to admit his link to the Davao Death Squad. Besides, she is up to her eyeballs in other cases and even admitted a few weeks ago that she doesn’t have the time to file charges against other public officials implicated in the pork barrel scam anymore because there are more urgent cases that she has to personally attend to. Preparing for the Senate race is one of them, some have claimed. But I digress…
What I am trying to say is this: the fact that the extrajudicial killings and that the rumor that Duterte sanctioned them has been an open secret for decades but no one has done anything about them says a lot about the profound dysfunction in Philippine society. Why didn’t De Lima file complaints against Duterte years ago when she was still the Chairman of the Philippine Commission on Human Rights in the first place? Why is she making noise against Duterte only now? Some people say it’s because he is very popular with voters as a potential candidate for the 2016 Presidential election.
While I personally do not condone extra-judicial killings, it is really astounding how this activity can go on for decades in the Philippines while the perpetrators get away with it with total impunity. As boxing champion Floyd Mayweather once said in an interview, the Philippines is effed up.
Public servants in the Philippines divide rather than unite the sentiments of Filipinos. That’s because most of them use short cuts instead of following the law. The controversy surrounding Duterte has certainly divided the sentiments of the Filipino people. Duterte thinks he can justify killing suspected criminals by saying the end justifies the means and a lot of people agree with him. His supporters cite the perceived low crime rate, economic progress and peace and order in Davao City and credit it to Duterte’s iron-fisted leadership. Never mind that members of the Davao Death Squad commit the most basic crime themselves – killing people and depriving them of their right to a fair trial. We will never know if some of those people were actually innocent of the crimes they were suspected of committing.
With law and order in the Philippines deteriorating at a fast rate, a lot of people find Duterte’s brand of justice “refreshing”. They think that the answer to the lack of discipline in Philippine society can be solved using tyranny. The other irony here is that Filipinos have forgotten former President Ferdinand Marcos already used that approach, but he eventually got ousted in 1986 partly due to the rampant extra-judicial killings during his reign. This should tell Filipinos something – that one man cannot bring the kind of justice that will be applied equally to all. Only observing the rule of law can do that.