What’s the difference between a joke and a dirty slip showing? How do you distinguish hyperbole from a person’s genuine worldview?
In the case of the Davao strongman Rodrigo Duterte, the offensive comments come too regularly to be dismissed as careless witticism.
Credit Duterte for defending indigenous peoples hounded by henchmen of corporations out to wrest their ancestral lands. Credit him for condemning the massacre of hungry folk in Kidapawan. Praise him for wanting to expand agrarian reform to ensure farmers get the support they need. Hail his commitment to resume stalled peace talks with communist rebels and provide meaningful autonomy to the Bangsamoro.
The Davao mayor has not admitted to any extrajudicial killings. He claims the criminals killed under his direct supervision were all gunned down in battles with law enforces. No case has been filed against Duterte for these extra-judicial killings.
His supporters stress this to debunk charges of selective justice. But there is no doubt that people have been summarily executed under Duterte’s watch.
Duterte applauded these killings, encouraged these, defended these, verbally attacked and threatened those who rang alarm bells. Human Rights Watch (HRW) has doggedly reported on this for years; its country researcher Carlos Conde has received threats for his efforts.
Duterte may not have actually pulled the trigger. But speech after speech – to cheers and ovation – Duterte, a lawyer, spits on the nation’s laws, including the Constitution, presenting murder as legitimate law enforcement policy.
Who judges the innocent?
In his April 12 rally at the Amoranto stadium, Duterte said he has never killed an innocent person. But who judges innocence or guilt? The courts do, not the mayor, not the President. To deny suspects a chance to defend themselves in court does not solve the problem of injustice.
In the same rally, Duterte expressed sympathy for the plight of the Bangsamoro.
“I have to swear to the flag. My duty to the republic is to protect everybody, including the Moro people,” he promised disappointed leaders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
That’s impressive. But government officials swear to protect the rights of everyone, including people suspected of committing crimes.
The military routinely tramples on these rights where suspected militants are concerned, including the Lumad fighting to keep their lands free of abusive extractive industries. Officials of the Aquino government routinely justify these abuses. They are wrong. And so is Duterte in his equally selective notion of human rights.
Duterte talks about the evils of corruption, of how top leaders have made a rich, small segment of the population more equal than the rest.
His followers also cite the same – criminals coddled by lawmen, judges, other officials – as a reason for their impatience with legal niceties and their support for death penalty sans any check and balance, except a leader’s righteousness.
I will not disabuse them of the belief that injustice stalks the land. It does; my Facebook page is filled daily of examples, from tragi-comedy to full-blown horror.
Nor will I try to paint Davao City as the country’s crime capital. It isn’t.
But there is no excuse for murder. There is no reason on earth that justifies state-sanctioned murder.
My rights are everybody’s rights
Dutere asks, “anong mawala sa inyo kung patayin ko ang criminal?” (What would it cost you if I kill criminals?)
I have seen state security officials kill people on simple suspicion of being criminals. I have seen friends die, seen them arrested and tortured. I have seen people languish in jail even when the courts have cleared them of alleged crimes.
I cannot agree that others do not deserve the same rights I fight for, the same rights government officials are sworn to defend.
Duterte isn’t a neophyte politician. He has had decades as local chief to provide an alternative to instant-gratification, vigilante justice.
He offers higher wages for law enforcers. They certainly need it – like the rest of the country needs it.
But Duterte should be detailing steps needed to ensure that cops and soldiers do their job right, like trainings to lessen their use of shortcuts that then lead to lost cases.
He could list steps he’s done and will do to ensure the poor – defendants and plaintiffs – are guaranteed legal aid by efficient and honest government lawyers.
He could talk about workable rehab programs for young people who fall prey to drug abuse. He could talk about imposing harsher penalties for corrupt prosecutors who throw cases, or work with citizens’ groups to keep watch on hoodlums in robes.
It’s not that he hasn’t helped drug addicts. He has, as witnessed by Clarisse Le Neindre, who know runs a rehab facility after recovering from addiction with Duterte’s help.
Watch Le Neindre’s testimony https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fforwardwomen2016%2Fvideos%2Fvb.1671955399731080%2F1690853824507904%2F%3Ftype%3D3&show_text=0&width=560
Why then stress shortcuts as solutions to problems? Duterte is doing people a disservice by pandering to the worst of our instant gratification tendencies.
He presents the sona – the whole-scale round up of suspected addicts and community pushers – as the swift response to the scourge of drugs. That blueprint misses the fat cats who control the entry, the manufacture and the deliveries of drugs to affected areas.
Double standards, too
Duterte says poor Filipinos will come first under his presidency. He opposes contractualization.
Yet he promises to create an enclave where foreign investors can stay safe from the reach of the country’s laws.
He personally commits to keep them safe from inconvenient truths – like the fact that workers have the right to unionize.
For all Duterte’s talk about the poor’s right to prosper, he sees the struggle for economic rights as an enemy of development. And, indeed, in his first official campaign speech, he threatened to kill labor leaders who would not heed his “appeal” for a moratorium on union work.
He banners his credentials as a dear friend to the LGBT community. By all accounts, he treats them well.
Some gay friends who support him say they see nothing wrong with it.
If he uses it as an adjective that reflects your self-identity, there is nothing wrong with it. If you slam others for using bakla as a slur, why is Duterte suddenly exempt from those standards? His use of the word only encourages the bitter, hateful homophobia that have harmed so many of your peers.
And then there’s rape and his attitude towards women. He and his wife have a unique relationship and I will not impose my standards of fidelity on them. I must also acknowledge that, unlike ousted president Joseph Estrada, no one has charged Duterte with stealing public funds to subsidise his womanising activities.
Davao also has many pro-women policies.
And yet, he opens his mouth and something else comes out.
Duterte recently shared this tale of criminals in detention twice grabbing hostages. The second incident involved a bunch of Christian prayer warriors, including an Australian woman who was raped and then had her throat slashed, according to a report by the Chicago Tribune.
Duterte used the anecdote to stress how incorrigible some criminals are and also to show his willingness to risk life for the sake of victims.
Then he debased everything that mattered. His anger towards rape was almost secondary to dismay that criminals used the woman first before the mayor did.
He was joking? Maybe. But he also used the same line earlier in his talk.
Cops who commit crimes for personal reasons deserve to be punished, he said. He made an example of a cop who kills his mistress – especially a pretty one — and implied the mayor should have first dibs on the beauty.
It’s not the first time he used that anecdote on the hostage-taking, ending with a similar line. Watch Noemi Dado’s video at the 38:43 marker.
You can slog through the entire Duterte speech, including some moving performances by Freddie Aguilar here.
And this admittedly moving paean to change. Which, indeed, this country needs.
We all should be outraged that the haves in this country get away with all kinds of abuses while the rest of us suffer indignities daily.
Yes, innocent people get killed and innocent people rot in jail. Hungry people are left to starve; when they protest, they die.
We all should rage.
But in cheering for Duterte’s warped logic, in playing blind to his contradictions, we might just visit more of the same on this nation.