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DDS (Duterte's Death Squad) II


The dismal human rights situation in the country clearly underscores the need for a United Nations-led investigation into Rodrigo Duterte’s “War On Drugs”. 20,000 drug suspects have been killed, but the illegal drug trade persists, and the killings continue. Recently, the Hague-based International Court has initiated a probe on Duterte, looking into alleged crimes against humanity, to which he responded by instantly effecting our nation’s withdrawal from its membership. The war on drugs, meanwhile, is still to continue in the unpredictable hands of the PNP (Philippine National Police)…and is looking less and less credible.

Fabricated Fear

Two years since its launch, the premise and the promise behind Duterte’s anti-drug policy are confusing at best. Not that its start was any less ambiguous. The whole “War On Drugs” idea seemed more like an inception of a curious agenda when it was first announced. Its basis was too artificial.

From what the COMELEC (Commission On Elections) and the PNP described as a generally peaceful and orderly elections, by which Duterte was appointed as the new Philippine president, a surprising declaration only two months later asserted that the country is in a ‘State of Lawlessness’, and that national security was at risk from narco-politicians, insurgents, and terrorists. And then, the killings began.

Before Duterte’s opening exposition, the country’s problem on illegal drugs was a bit concerning but not quite as horrifying as it is currently portrayed. Widespread corruption in government, and not a drug epidemic, was and still is the nation’s major detriment. But then we just had to believe the newly elected president who meticulously illustrated how a nation besieged by the menace of illegal drugs will eventually be doomed if nothing was done to correct the situation. He even toted a so-called “narco-list”, which he said contained about 1,000 names of mayors, governors, congressmen, barangay captains, and police officers who were alleged to be involved in the illegal drug trade. Many of the personalities whose names were on the list scampered to clear their names, denying any involvement in the narcotics trade. Drug addicts surrendered to the authorities by the tens of thousands.

In the weeks that ensued, a mostly assuming public welcomed the development as the beginning phase of the ‘meaningful change’ Duterte promised voters in his election campaign. News of suspected drug dealers dying in reported clashes with the police were taken as a bitter pill. There was the occasional warning on how violent and vicious drug addicts can be. The rhetoric was, at first, acceptable, despite a string of violent episodes, until it took too long to apprehend even just one individual named in the famous narco-list, while dozens of poor Filipinos turned up dead, killed by the police in supposed legitimate encounters.

But then, all at once, the government’s war on drugs revised into a ridiculous new narrative: “The rich don’t take shabu, they take cocaine. This is why mostly it is the poor drug suspects that cross paths with the police. An overwhelming majority of the drug suspects are petty drug couriers or what is termed 'small fish'. There hasn’t been an encounter with any 'big fish' drug lord or kingpin because they are all abroad, not based in the Philippines. They are also very rich, and so have very powerful lawyers, and it is almost impossible to get to them.”

It was at that point when the war on drugs really started to smell like fish.

Allowing the Devil to Have his Way

In the first place, the act of designating the PNP to conduct Operation:Tokhang and make it the leading body for anti-drug operations was already a violation of Republic Act 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 which mandates the PDEA (Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency) as the sole agency for the task. How this was freely accomplished without much legal hindrances nor penalties should already give us a hint on the government’s complete lack of will when it comes to imposing proper accountability upon all public servants. It demonstrated the system's vulnerability, that if the Devil himself, undoubtedly up to no good, ascended to the rank of Philippine President, the wrong question to ask is if we can stop him. The right question to ask is ‘are we going to’?

Policemen were included in Duterte's narco-list, and yet the PNP was assigned to the task, disregarding any possibility that dirty cops in the drug trade will use the empowerment to new heights of abuse, or might be driven to silence the vagabonds in the streets whom they use as drug killing them. The headstrong new administration, equipped with an elaborate tri-media propaganda machine, efficiently coerced the public into putting their full trust in a sketchy police force to begin with, banishing all doubts about proceeding with the initiative without the PNP first cleaning its house. In fact, crooked drug-pushing cops were given a blanket pardon without penalty, for as long as they promise to changed their ways, and then were consequently invited to join the national campaign against drugs, encouraged with a fresh instruction on how to deal with drug suspects: "Shoot them".

It’s quite irrefutable that Duterte practically granted murderous policemen executive immunity from prosecution. He conveniently and purposely threw accountability out the window, assuring the cops involved in the killings that they would be pardoned. Clearly, he thinks himself as above the law, and thus gives little care about breaking it. “I will kill you”, Duterte repeatedly threatened the lives of drug-users and drug peddlers nationwide. He also openly ordered civilians to act as vigilantes and to “shoot to kill” drug suspects at the slightest provocation.

A Duterte-diehard cabinet was relentless in its parroting of the anti-drug crux, practically saying that all the drug suspects killed deserved their deaths. A callous Congress sleekly disengaged from the responsibility to confirm the truth that Duterte’s war on drugs has become unnecessarily violent. A series of Senate investigations declined the chance to profess how irrational it is, or how suspicious, to have almost all the drug suspects end up dead, many bearing execution style wounds. Unmindfully it has become somewhat taboo to question the ratio of fatalities to that of only wounded in this war on drugs, and how the ratio implies a predominant intent to silence the drug suspects forever, instead of giving them their day in court. It may be true that dead men tell no tales, but statistics do. And so, predictably, coterminous with the all-inclusive clearance for slaughter was a systemic drive to distort the numbers.

Reports of the actual death toll were conflicting all of a sudden. The PNP records showed a significantly underestimated than that reported by media. Media outlets that reported higher numbers were suddenly branded as corrupt, motivated by the Opposition, or as disseminators of fake news. And as journalists doubled their endeavor to bear accuracy in their reports, the PNP then adamantly stood on an audacious refusal to comply with standard protocol and their inherent duty to provide case details. This move to prevent transparency about the anti-drug operations was ardently enforced by the legal thaumaturgy of the Office of the Solicitor General. These moves to obscure the facts were made even as testimonies multiplied telling how police repeatedly disrespect rules of engagement, many even resorting to malicious tactics such as planting evidence, frame-up, whitewash and coverup to concoct their own plausible version of reports on their pretentious operations.

The PNP’s official scapegoat, erring operatives called “scalawags”, are hardly prosecuted. They usually just get transferred to new designations, but sometimes even promoted. On the other hand, legal efforts to prosecute police suspected of carrying out murders in the name of the drug war do not result in convictions, even in cases where police mischief was caught on video. There’s also meager effort by the police to investigate cases where the killers were supposedly masked vigilantes “riding in tandem”. Killings of this sort are largely left unsolved, but in the few rare instances where these motorcycle riding assassins were caught and apprehended in the act, they were revealed afterwards to be policemen themselves.

It is not so effortful to, at least, consider the possibility that the PNP is extremely not suited to take on the specialized duty of PDEA, especially after exhibiting an astronomical inability to discipline trigger-happy operatives or keeping in check the devilry of rogue “ninja cops”. But, for goodness sake, who could fail to see that the police have not only ceased to fulfill its mandate to protect and serve the citizenry, but have already gone doing the opposite? And moving from that thought, how impossible is it to come to surmise that Rodrigo Duterte, as the ultimate head of the national police force, by command responsibility, is the one to blame for bloody craze of killings, with his war on drugs turning into a colossal blunder because of gross negligence? Seeing the inordinate tragedies resulting from it, the war on drugs isn't simply an ignorable omission of miscalculation. It is a deplorable catastrophe that was willfully executed, a misdeed for which he should be impeached on the grounds of culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust, perhaps even treason.

Censure but with a Double Standard

All of the president’s totalitarian power, even with the “super majority” coalition of politicians behind him, plus his staunchest allies and his allegiant army of DDS (Duterte Die-hard Supporters), cannot have more authority than the Philippine Constitution. Fundamentally, it is by our Constitution that we can reference how Duterte is at fault and how extensive his offense is. But even this, as a path to civil resolutions, is now besieged.

Duterte and his allies are hell-bent on changing our form of government to federalism. In the interim, they will be allowed the power to modify our very Constitution, and edit it as they see fit. In short, this Duterte administration now wants to do away with our most basic laws, the very rules it is guilty of wantonly breaching.

While a dazed up and increasingly despairing public scrambles for ways to have truth, clarity and sobriety prevail in this time of violence, confusion and impunity, this Duterte government has been nothing but incessant—in denying access to vital facts; in advertising falsehood; in polarizing our society; in turning public institutions against the citizenry; and in systematically dismantling our democratic foundations. The Filipino nation is now held hostage by the malignant insistence of a defiant assembly of public servants who are willing to go all out to infringe on our very core as a people, while they bask in their self-serving dominion. And though the incongruence is gaping to opposite extremes--one to the right, the other to the wrong--an omnipresent deception is made to linger so that many are not able to discern. But I believe many, perhaps the silent majority, are people who possess an innate yearning for equality. Thus, many of us still ought to know what is just. Even as it has so excruciatingly avoided us, I believe that as a people, we know justice. Or better put, we know injustice…perhaps all too well.

Countless have already expressed their dismay over the government’s deadly crackdown on poor drug suspects, convinced that it has been carried out in ways that needlessly brutal and exceedingly prejudiced. A number of mass protests have also been undertaken already, by various sectors of society, all echoing indignation about the wholesale violations of human rights, including the right to life. These sentiments were further incensed after news broke about a gargantuan seizure of shabu from China worth Php 6.4 billion which, after investigations, pointed to rampant corruption at the Bureau of Customs that's been hugely overlooked, and a paper trail leading to a certain “Davao Group” that implicated Duterte's own son and son in law as being involved.

It is an outrage. While poor drug suspects were being slaughtered left and right, huge drug shipments from China find their way into the country with the help of government officials. But then oddly, in this particular case, our drug-hating government suddenly seems powerless, mum and totally disinterested in the drug war, with the case virtually dismissed in a jiffy without even getting to the bottom of it. Attempts by independent institutions to probe into the matter are seemingly being frustrated by an unknown force, while official government inquiries were right away concluded, apparently satisfied with the arrest and incarceration of a mere warehouse security guard who was implicated in the scandal. The shoddy and obvious bias must be agonizing for Senator Leila De Lima who, tagged at one time by Duterte as 'The Mother of All Drug Lords", was apprehended and incarcerated on a vague charge of “conspiracy to trade” based on the testimonies of convicted felons.

The perverse bigotry by which the Duterte government administers its anti-drug policies grows more obvious every day. Just recently, the DOJ (Department of Justice) had junked drug charges against Kerwin Espinosa, a self-confessed drug lord, apparently for lack of evidence, even as the evidence is already quite ridiculously so apparent. Besides Espinosa, several other members of his drug syndicate called the Espinosa Group, along with known drug suppliers of Central and Eastern Visayas, the Chinese kingpin Peter Lim, all enjoyed a one-time bulk dismissal of their charges through the good graces of DOJ officials who couldn't seem to find anything substantial to convict them.

Yik Lai Yu, a jailed “drug queen” and her daughter Diana Yu Uy who purportedly controlled the narcotics trade from inside a women’s detention facility enjoy friendships with “influential people”, and have special cops from the PNP-Police Security Protection Group for personal bodyguards. It even appears that the government is not only absolving the real drug lords, but has gone the length of even protecting them too. Debates on this have exploded in social media with all sorts of conjecture flying in different directions but, foreseeably, disputes like such which don't bear any accountability will just aggravate the confusion. We can, however, simply do the math. The biggest shabu hauls mostly come from China. Duterte has a standing love affair with China, virtually allowing China to build structures in several shoals already since he became president. And he has been resolute in turning a blind eye on the probability that the shoals where he allows China to build structures can be utilized for drug trafficking.

Is it sheer coincidence that the Duterte government appears to be either powerless against, if not in bed with the “big fish” in the illegal drug trade? Multifold sectors in society already think not. The Catholic Church and several progressive organizations are already protesting that Duterte’s war on drugs is a war against the poor, aimed to only sow terror and not really to solve the problem of illegal drugs. But at any rate, one doesn’t need to be a genius to realize that a war waged only on enemy foot soldiers while taking care not to harm the enemy generals is a war that is not meant to be won.

The Underlying Evil

It is nothing short of diabolical to have ten thousand or twenty thousand people killed just to make a fake anti-drug war seem real. If anything, Duterte’s war on drugs makes more graphic the reality of the flagrant injustice that afflicts our country, and the secret evil entrenched in the leadership that endorses such villainy. Definitely, it is a far worse problem than the proliferation of illegal drugs. What may be actually happening behind the war on drugs is the commencement of a clandestine and treasonous conspiracy, a conspiracy to commit mass murder in order to instill fear and discourage dissent. But only deducing from what has already been known, I believe it will be to our great advantage to pierce through the veil of Duterte’s drug war narrative, attempt to investigate the real motives behind the bloody crackdown, and never, never accept the countless unexplained killings of Filipino citizens as a normal part of our day.

Those who support and defend Duterte’s war on drugs and adhere to the fallacies that suppose all the drug suspects killed by the police really gave the authorities no other recourse; that all such incidents were consequences of legitimate operations; that there are no extra-judicial killings happening; and that the currently applied strategy and methodology are correct ways to win the war on drugs—should really make that deep and honest effort think again, but this time independently from their wishes of belonging to or of benefitting from the ruling political party. The unbridled and shameless killings of our poor countrymen is amplifying into an authentic and gruesome holocaust…and so far they have been all for it. It's an attitude no different from seeing your neighbor being murdered, for instance, and you either cheered on or openly denied any wrongdoing done and willfully obstructed justice. At which point, if you are among these who've come to live in entitlement and indifference, it no longer matters if you did not pull the trigger yourself. If only one of those who fell were innocent of the crime accused them, their blood is pretty much on your hands as well. And it’s not even the worst of it.

In the final grim denouement, perhaps all of us will come to the realization that Duterte’s war on drugs is nothing but deadly fanfare hinged on a lunatic’s whim…an ineludible consequence of aggrandizing a narrow-minded and narcissistic warlord to the heights of the presidency. Now equipped with an even bigger death squad, a troop of unprincipled cronies in the cabinet and in congress, and an elaborate propaganda machine that can spin all sorts of falsehood until they look like the truth—a nefarious, thug-like president has been infecting the nation with his capricious malevolence, convincing many to believe him. But even his most faithful devotees, those who’d go the extra mile to support him and his programs, will probably just end up abandoned and betrayed by him. And this is because, feeling exempted from accountability, it is so easy for him to be whimsical and govern with the fickleness of an impish brat.

Only last February 6, 2018, in a speech during the 45th anniversary celebration of the NEDA (National Development Authority), President Duterte bizarrely admits that “drugs still abound” and that “corruption remains”, and that his drug war turned out to “be a nightmare, a fiasco”. But then again, shortly after he said this, the Palace announced that the war on drugs will continue. Without the imposition of accountability, he wouldn't even feel compelled to apologize or even thank all those who supported his war on drugs through thick and thin, and over the flip-flopping stances.

I don't know, but if I were one of those fanatics who worship him, I’d take it as a totally Judas move.

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