By Alan C. Robles
[Below is an excerpt from Alan’s latest piece in D+C, the monthly publication funded by Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. My thanks to them for allowing me to publish this on my site.]
From May to December 2016, an average of 30 Filipinos were brutally murdered every day. The dead included toddlers, teenagers and mothers. Some were shot by the police, others by masked assassins. Populist President Rodrigo Duterte has encouraged the bloodshed.
The death count is currently at 6,000 and still growing. Not one murderer has been brought to justice. Meanwhile, Congress is working on restoring the death penalty and lowering the age of criminal responsibility to nine years. There is talk of allowing security forces to detain people without judicial mandate, changing the constitution and giving the president emergency powers.
In May, Duterte won the presidential elections. Of 41 million voters, almost 17 million opted for him. Mar Roxas, who came in second, got 10 million votes.
During the campaign, Duterte warned that the country was being engulfed by crime and illegal drugs, so drastic measures were needed. He showed contempt for human rights. “God will weep if I become president,” he said, promising to fill Manila bay with the corpses of tens of thousands of criminals and drug addicts. The former mayor of Davao City had a reputation of ties to death squads.
Far from being appalled, millions of Filipinos lapped up his murderous diatribes. He apparently appealed to a latent sense of anger, which is probably linked to poverty, inequality, corruption and policy failures. The Philippines is nominally a democracy, but “trapos”, the members of oligarchic families, dominate political life. Duterte is not one of them, railed against them, but, once in office, aligned himself with them.
Duterte’s campaign used Facebook aggressively. His followers spread his messages and fake news, belittling other candidates and intimidating critics.
Duterte promised to end crime, erase government corruption and smash rice smuggling within six months. Of course he did not do so. His achievements so far are involving the Communists in his government, pivoting away from the west towards China and Russia and burying the remains of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos at the National Heroes Cemetery. Masses of protesters were appalled that the autocrat who exploited the country in the 1960s, 70s and 80s was honoured this way.
Duterte’s war on drugs seems to consist of a single policy: eliminating suspects and anyone who gets in the way. The Philippines has a history of extrajudicial killings, but the current, almost industrial scale is unprecedented. Reporters are now staying at Manila police stations overnight waiting for reports of corpses. In the daytime, people gather to look at bullet-ridden corpses on the streets.
When Duterte took office in late June, the police urged drug addicts to turn themselves in. Hundreds of thousands did, but they were sent away after their names and addresses were noted. Soon, many people on those lists were dead, killed by “tandems” consisting of two assassins on a motorcycle. The president has said he does not like spending money on drug treatment, indicating that his goal was always extermination, not rehabilitation.
The list of atrocities is long. A mother of two was called out of her house and gunned down in the street. A teenager died in a hail of bullets only because she was sitting in the same public vehicle as a suspect. Most victims are poor people, some are reformed addicts who kicked the habit, and some are mere bystanders. Even children have died. Duterte shrugs them all off as “collateral damage”.
The president seems to distinguish Filipinos from drug addicts, a lower life form. “I’d like to be frank with you, are they humans?” he has asked. He expressed the wish to kill 3 million of them. His talk is Nazi-like, and Duterte has indeed spoken favourably of Hitler. His trademark salute – a clenched fist at the end of a horizontally extended right arm – is just a few degrees shy of a “Heil Hitler”.
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