Bodies are piling upon bodies recently as a wave of “rub-outs” (politely known as “extrajudicial killings”) make headline news everyday. There is no shortage of indignation about these incidents being waxed all over social media and corporate media outlets so any further feeding of the outrage will merely come across as redundant bandwagoning. What we are witnessing today has been attributed to The Duterte Effect — a rising number of homicides that supposedly strongly correlates with President Rodrigo Duterte’s cornerstone campaign promise to rid the Philippines of drug-related crime by hook or by crook.
If it is true that these killings were perpetrated by crook (i.e. not following proper police procedure around the use of deadly force on suspected criminals), then there is strong reason to hold Duterte criminally accountable for encouraging vigilantism. Correlation, however, does not necessarily translate to causation, and this is where Duterte’s critics are left scratching their pointed heads. It is hard to prove that Duterte’s leadership is what is causing unlawful killing of suspected criminals to run rampant. It may be an “effect” of his leadership, but to find evidence of a pre-meditated effort to perpetrate excessive police violence requires diligence — something Filipinos, as a people, have never really demonstrated an aptitude for.
More remarkable is the broader Filipino public’s general indifference to all this. Limited to the circle of people I follow on social media, I would think that outrage over these killings is widespread. But when one steps back and regards the bigger picture, it would look more like most of the so-called activists and champions of “human rights” who shriek “bloody murder” on Twitter are preaching to a crowd of merely bemused observers.
Filipinos, after all, no longer buy the high-horsed notion that the law applies to all and that its implementation is above partisan politics. The fact is, the law has been perverted to the ends of the powerful in favour of family, friendships, and business interests. This tradition has tainted, well, the most high-horsed amongst the “activists” who now lamely wave their fists against Duterte in the air mouthing tired platitudes while waving the “human rights” flag. These activists who, themselves, had turned a blind eye to state-sanctioned human rights abuses when their pals were in power have lost any moral ascendancy to denounce anything today or over the foreseeable future. Ordinary Filipinos are pretty much left without moral beacons, their ethical sensibilities long having been betrayed by the Philippines’ cadre of morality Scribes and Pharisees.
What we are seeing today is a go-for-the-gold attitude with regard to vigilantism. If you must tolerate human rights abuse, then why not go the whole Nine Yards and outright ignore “human rights” and cheer on our vigilante forces?
Unfortunately for Filipinos, their leaders’ consistent pagmamalinis before the corporate media cameras while stomping in the faces of their “enemies” under the table has eroded trust between leadership and citizenship and, in the process, highlighted the complicity of corporate media in the effort to whitewash the persistently dark underbelly of Philippine society. Corporate media, once the much-relied-upon arbiter of what is true, is now seen as part of a corrupt establishment of oligarchs out to blanket Filipinos in dark ignoramity rather than shed light upon what is relevant and insightful.
Perhaps, set aside for now our biases against what we regard as “human rights abuse”. The fact is, whether by correlation or by causation, the events being reported in the news today are consistent with an overaching position categorically taken by Malacanang. In short, there are no pretensions. This, indeed, is where the power of Duterte lies. Criticise the effect of this position all we want, but we cannot fault his administration with saying one thing in polite company and doing something else in practice.
For the first time in history, the Philippine government is consistent in both its talk and its walk.
That’s a lot more than what could be said of even those who pompously criticise that walk.
[Photo courtesy Manila Bulletin.]