Thursday, September 17, 2009

The rule of law applies even to the devils

Below is a letter to the editor I wrote regarding the editorial of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, "Vigilante rule."

In Robert Bolt’s play “A Man For All Seasons,” William Roper has a heated debate with Sir Thomas More about the law.

Roper: So now you’d give the Devil benefit of law!

More: What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

Roper: I’d cut every law in England to do that!

More: And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned on you — where would you hide Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast — man’s laws, not God’s — and if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer’s March 31 editorial, “Vigilante rule” is essentially an elaboration on the question More had to confront: Should the Devil be given the benefit of law?

By all means, the editorial says, we should. After all, “that is the process in a nation that upholds the rule of law, not the rule of the mob or vigilantes.”

Many of us whose relatives have been fortunately spared from these killings may have some degree of tolerance for the killings. And Commission on Human Rights Chairperson Leila de Lima finds it alarming that there’s a “growing culture or mentality of public acceptance of the executions.”

Sure, unlike before, we can now roam the streets of Davao City free from fear of being knifed or held up by lawless elements. Sure, we can take pride in making this city unfit for those who have a sinister plan of setting up a drug laboratory. Sure, the death of a person who either has a criminal record or is a drug addict/pusher is not so great a loss. They are “salot sa lipunan” [plague of society].

“But what if,” the Philippine Daily Inquirer asks, “their relatives or friends become targets or victims of vigilante assassinations?”

Like More, we should not “cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil.” Instead, we should give “the Devil benefit of law.”

What for? For our own safety’s sake.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

'Exile from human memory'

What are the perils of indifference?

That was the question around which Elie Wiesel’s speech, “The Perils Indifference,” revolves. “The political prisoner in his cell, the hungry children, the homeless refugees —not to respond to their plight, not to relieve their solitude by offering them a spark of hope is to exile them from human memory…,” Elie Wiesel said at a Millennium series lecture held in White House and hosted by then US first couple Mr. and Mrs. Bill Clinton.

When Wiesel, a 1986 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, spoke those words, he had in mind the victims of the tragic episode in humanity’s history that was the Holocaust.

But it is not too far off the mark to include Clarita Alia among those exiles from “human memory.” Call it inflated, but that is where Clarita Alia is right now: Gone from the memory of the people. Her cries remain unheeded; her demands seemed to fall on deaf ears. Over the years, Clarita Alia has been clamoring that justice be served for the death of her four children: Richard, 18; Christopher, 16; Bobby, 14; Fernando, 15—all were knifed to death. But she seemed clamoring in vain.

Already in her 50s and now a widow, she single-handedly raised her eight children by selling vegetables at Bankerohan, one of Davao City’s largest public markets. Like all mother, she dreamed of giving her children a bright future. But the environment Mayor Rodrigo Duterte created would make that dream just that: a dream.

Duterte, son of former Governor Vicente Duterte, figured prominently both here and abroad as a no nonsense mayor. Here, Davaoeños admired him for bringing this city out of perdition and into progress. Outside the city, his has become a template for effective local governance.

A former prosecutor, Duterte was first elected as mayor in 1987. At the time, his single biggest challenge was the rebel New People’s Army, which sowed terror in the metropolis. Duterte succeeded in his campaign to cripple the NPA.

And one can already see the marked contrast between today’s Davao City and the Davao City two decades ago. It became a business hub in an otherwise conflict-infested island, Mindanao. Investments continue to come in. Tourists can roam the city anytime, anywhere. Davao City has been reaping awards left and right.

Duterte attributed all of these to his administration’s relentless effort to bring—you guess it right—peace and order. These made Duterte and this city well known.

Duterte has, however, one inescapable sore point: He can be so tough on crminals that many feel he is going beyond the ambit of the law. The prominent Time magazine, for instance, called him “The Punisher,” describing him as someone who is “unapologetic about his willingness to venture beyond what legal niceties might permit.” From the moment he first sat down as mayor of Davao City, Duterte never departed from his campaign promise. Up to today, it’s still peace and order he is peddling.

But in what form did his campaign for peace and order take? In order to deliver peace and order, one crucial step is for him to take a hard stance against criminals menacing the city. To Duterte, it’s the criminals who disrupt investments, scare away tourists, and hamper progress. Hence, the city must get rid of them. Purge the criminals and peace, progress, and prosperity will follow suit.

Even before he became a mayor, he never endeared himself to outlaws. For as long as Duterte is in charge, no criminals, petty or otherwise, can ever do anything in this city without paying for it. And the payment usually comes at a high price. It may mean losing their lives. “Don’t f*** with my city,” Duterte used to warn thugs. Or else, “they should be prepared to die.”

It is in this hostile climate in which the Alia family lived, as do many Davaoeños. And it is a climate that proved to be dangerous, at least to the four of the Alia children who, at some point their lives, have been involved in criminal activities.

Yet with four of her children lost to the DDS and justice remains as elusive as ever, her plight does not seem to grind Davaoeños to a halt. Indeed, the silence on the killings is deafening; the dominant mode disturbing. If one goes around and asks ordinary people in the street about the killings, the most common responses are: “The killings would be a good example to other would be criminals,” or “They deserve it.”

Today we may turn indifferent to the clamor of the families of DDS victims. But surely in the coming years, we’re going to come to terms with it. The sooner we do it, the better. As Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, reminds us, “it’s not only wrong to summarily take someone’s life; it’s also extraordinarily dangerous.”

If the DDS wills to expand their class of victims, they can. And no one will be safe anymore, not even those whose criminal records are clean.

Birds of the same feather won't catch each other

Now this one’s really De Lima’s dilemma:

In the September 6 episode of “Gikan sa Masa, Para sa Masa,” where Mayor Rody Duterte sometimes settles scores with his enemies, Mayor Duterte urged the Commission on Human Rights to come back and investigate the resurgence of killings in the streets.

“Wala na ko mogunit sa pagkasupervisor sa DCPO [Davao City Police Office],” Duterte said. “Though my resignation was not accepted, I told them that I consider myself resigned. Sukad sa CHR [Commission on Human Rights] inquiry, wala na ko misulod sa DCPO. Pero natingala ko ngano man padayon gihapon ang patay?”

On March 30, 2009, the CHR conducted a highly publicized public inquiry into the killings in Davao City that have gone unabated since 1998. Leila De Lima, the CHR’s feisty chairperson, squarely put the blame on Mayor Duterte’s shoulders for his failure to stop the killings, if not for aiding the criminals.

Ostensibly to give the CHR a free hand in its inquiry, Mayor Duterte resigned as a supervisor of the DCPO on March 31. His resignation, however, was rejected by DILG Secretary Ronaldo Puno, saying it’s against the mandate of the law.

Now five months after the CHR started the public inquiry, it seems Mayor Duterte is laying the blame at the foot of CHR Chair Leila De Lima.

In August alone, there were 13 people killed; in September, five. Mayor Duterte asked the CHR to explain the killings. Surely somebody else is responsible for them, and it certainly not him, contrary to the allegations, because he has already given up control over the police.

“Mangutana ko karon, ngano man padayon lang gihapon ang patay?” Duterte asked. “Is there somebody behind it? Is there somebody trying to create a chaotic condition? Is there somebody who wants to pain a picture of Davao City as killing fields?

“I leave it to the CHR to please come back to Davao City and investigate more. I’d like the human rights to come back and tell us what is this all about?”

It’s clever of him to say those words because it effectively cast the CHR in a bad light. It’s as if Mayor Duterte is saying that the commission made a wrong decision by asking him to distance himself from the police, from whose ranks the DDS gunmen allegedly come. It’s as if he’s saying that the commission should let him do his own thing because it’s the only way to deal with the city’s criminality. Otherwise, the situation just might go berserk.

Yet Mayor Duterte’s remarks have only highlighted an anomaly in his administration. The City Mayor’s Office has at its disposal a P450 million budget for Peace and Order. Of this amount, the mayor can disburse as much as 1.2 million daily if needed. “Whith this enormous sum of public funds given to…the city mayor to maintain peace and order in the community,” said Mindanao Daily Mirror columnist Bert Tesorero, “there is no reason why street killings would go unabated for almost a decade now without a single case solved by the police.”

The police cannot be accused of ineptitude, either.

There is probably one reason why the police find it hard to stamp out the killings. According to the report of the New York-based Human Rights Watch, “You Can Die Anytime,” most members of the DDS are policemen, ex-policemen, rebel returnees, military personnel, and jobless youths who were involved “in a bit of drug pushing.”

“The DDS…,” it further noted, “is run by handlers. Such a handler is called the amo (boss). The amo is usually a policeman or ex-policeman, and in some cases, a barangay official…A local journalist, who has been investigating extrajudicial killings in Davao City for almost ten years, believed that all handlers report to the police precinct commander in their area who distributes money for “operations” and reports, in turn, to an official in the city government—‘the big boss.’”

Despite these damning revelations, police and military officers denied that they are by no means involved in the killings.

If, however, the police are involved in the killings, as claimed by the Human Rights Watch, then how can we expect them to get after the criminals if the criminals themselves come from their own ranks?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Overfunded but Underperforming?

According to Mindanao Daily Mirror columnist Bert Tesorero:
One of the key points the CHR is visibly trying to dig deeper into relative to the failure of the local authorities to solve and stop extra judicial killings that had dragged on for almost a decade in Davao City is the tremendous amount of peace and order fund of the city mayor’s office which enjoys a P450 million yearly allocation for peace and order where the city mayor may disburse as much as P1.2 million every day as the need arises. Thus with this enormous sum of public funds given to the disposal of the city mayor to maintain peace and order in the community, there is no reason why street killings would go unabated for almost a decade now with-out a single case solved by the police.