If there’s anyone that I am now afraid might win the 2016 elections—because who knows what kind of electorate we have at this point—it is Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte.
Yes, there are pros and cons for all the presidential candidates and the possibility that each will win. But what Duterte promises are such simple, commonsensical things. What he promises are things that all presidential candidates should be promising, and they should be promising it with a progam to back it up. A holistic take on peace and order and public safety that need not fall back on action star rhetoric, and need not mean committing every human rights violation imaginable.
Yes, we have heard of how safe Davao is, and how it has gotten international mileage, with labels like “The 5th safest city in the world!” (Philippine Daily Inquirer, 24 June).
And yet one is hard put to celebrate this when one considers the violence that is equated with this kind of peace and order that Davao is now famous for, and the kind of fear that is equated with the Davao leadership – with Duterte at the center of it.
In 2009, Human Rights Watch was alarmed by the violence in Davao and its effects on its children. They noted a steady increase in “targeted killings” of adults and children in Davao City from 2000 to 2010. In 1998, there were two reported killings. In 2008, there were 124. (TUCP website, 29 Aug 2009)
From 1998 to 2009, there were 908 killings attributed to what was termed as the Davao Death Squad (DDS). Teenagers take up a percentage of those killed. (TUCP 29 Aug 2009)
Human Rights Watch did extensive interviews and concluded that “police officers and local government officials are involved in the decade-long killing spree that has plagued Davao City.” (HRW.org, April 2009)
Mayor Duterte did not condemn these killings. (TUCP website, 29 Aug 2009)
The title of the HRW report from 2009? “You Can Die Any Time.”
Duterte and (in)justice
The above is enough reason to decide against Duterte in 2016. There is no excuse for these killings – not even the idea that the ones who are being killed are the known troublemakers of the community. And no, warning mothers that their children will be killed if they continue to misbehave is nothing. Because how is that even justice and due process?
This is a country that celebrates its democracy and freedom all the time. We speak of it as a good thing, even when it means we aren’t safe, even when it means we need a whole lot of smarts and a keen sense of danger when we step out into the streets.
To want every petty criminal killed is in no way justifiable. Whatever happened to legal arrests and the courts? Whatever happened to the notion(s) of reform and change, and the right of every person to go through that process?
In 2003, Duterte said on TV: “I admit I am 100 per cent terrorist but I am terrorizing only the drug pushers, kidnappers, hold-up gangs and other criminals <…> Kidnappers, drug pushers from other places, I dare you to come over here so that I can finish you off.”
In February 2009, Duterte said: “If you are doing an illegal activity in my city, 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.” (HRW.org, April 2009)
In 2012, Duterte “offered a $120,000 reward for whoever could bring him the decapitated head of an alleged gang leader <…> He offered an extra $24,000 if the head could be brought in a bag of ice, “so it won’t smell so bad.” (News.com.au, 2 July 2014)
I might be scared of drug pushers and kidnappers, hold-up gangs and syndicates, but having a Presidential candidate to even speak in this way makes my skin crawl.
We keep screaming Never Again! to Martial Law half the time because of the human rights violations and desaparecidos and violence. And yet here we are celebrating a man who is promising exactly the same things.
On May 25, Duterte guested in the local Davao show entitled Gikan Para sa Masa, where he admitted that he was the Davao Death Squad (DDS). After it gained mileage in Manila news and social media, he came out to say that when he said DDS, he meant Davao Development System. He denied completely what he had said on live television, now on YouTube for everyone to see.
And if you have the wherewithal to do exactly that, you’ll see that this is how the conversation went down:
“Duterte: Ako, ako daw ang death squad.
“Host: How do you react to that?
“Duterte: Tinuod (true).
“Host: DDS is responsible for the killings?
“Duterte: Tinuod nga. Alam mo kung baket? Gusto ko sila pumunta rito. There’s no need for you to go to the Ombudsman, there is no requirement to go to the Human Rights. File directly in court. Then I’ll place you under oath. Just execute an affidavit. Then I’ll call you when it’s my time for cross-examination. And I will show to the world how stupid you are.” (Radikalchick.com, 26 May)
Now search for the Davao Development System on any Davao website, and you will not find proof of its existence. There is a Davao Development FB Page, but there is no indication on the city’s official sites and press releases that this DDS even exists, at least not as of November 28.
Duterte tried and failed to spin his own admission of complicity in the extrajudicial killings done by the Davao Death Squad. He also admitted in fact that he is the Davao Death Squad.
Yes, Duterte speaks the every Pinoy macho’s language. That one that declares I will kill them all, I will make you eat the bullets that you plant in travelers’ luggage, I will make you eat the coins that you’ve earned today, I will use a hammer and maim you if you cut classes.
One can understand that appeal of these words (Jarius Bondoc, The Philippine Star, 27 Nov) but that doesn’t make these words right. We might like to hear that the streets will be cleared of petty criminals, but what does that mean for the bigger criminals in our midst? The big oligarchies that have as unspoken policy the oppression of workers via contractualization, the every-cultural institution that uses foundations as tax shields? (Rene Saguisag, GMA News Online, 21 May)
The words are good, but the rationale behind it, the system that it seeks to build, the frame by which we are given a set of limitations, THAT is more important. Without it, Duterte is revealing himself to be nothing but a man who has gotten away with … well … murder.
“Duterte: <…> if I become President, magtago na kayo, ‘yang 1,000 <extrajudicial killings> na yan it will reach 50,000. I will kill all of you who make the life of Filipinos miserable. Papatayin ko talaga kayo. Kase manalo ako dahil sa breakdown sa law and order eh. I do not want to commit a crime. But if by chance, God will place me there, magbantay kayo, because itong 1,000 na ito magiging 100,000. Diyan niyo makikita na tataba yung isda sa Manila Bay. Dahil diyan ko kayo itapon. I do not want to be President. I do not want to kill people. So do not elect me as President.”
I hear you, Sir. Let’s hope the rest of the Philippines hears you, too.
Published in The Manila Times, November 28 2015.