By Perry Diaz
On February 3, 2014, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte testified before a Senate committee what he knew about David Tan. He said that Tan was the central figure in rice smuggling in the country.
A senator asked him if he knew how Tan looked like? Duterte produced a photo of Tan that he claimed was given to him by police investigators. When he was asked if Bangayan — who was seated a few feet away — was the same person as the one on the photo, he said Davidson Bangayan and David Tan are one and the same person. He then said in front of Davidson that if he were caught smuggling in his city, he “will gladly kill” him. Instantly, Duterte became a celebrity.
Duterte’s reputation as a “crime fighter” began in 1988 when he was elected mayor of Davao City, the world’s largest city in land area. At that time, Davao City was called the “Murder Capital of the Philippines.” But the killings were mainly between New People’s Army (NPA) hit squads – called “Sparrow Units” — and a vigilante group known as “Alsa Masa” (Masses Arise). In 1987, the NPA assassins went into hiding after the Alsa Masa killed more than 100 of their members. By 1988, the NPA had retreated from the urban centers, and the killings stopped; and Alsa Masa faded into hibernation.
However, in the mid-1990s, a new vigilante group surfaced. Called the “Davao Death Squad,” or DDS, the group is allegedly responsible for the summary executions of drug traffickers, kidnappers, petty criminals, delinquents, gang members, and other lawbreakers.
In 2003, when human rights advocates claimed that Davao City had become the country’s “murder capital,” Duterte responded in his TV program “Gimmick for the Masses,” saying: “I admit I am 100 per cent terrorist but I am terrorizing only the drug pushers, kidnappers, holdup gangs, and other criminals.” He said, “Kidnappers, drug pushers from other places, I dare you to come over here so that I can finish you off. Davao City will be a murder capital for you. This will continue up to the end of my term.”
Although Duterte was never proven to be associated with DDS – which was often referred to as “Duterte Death Squad” — he had made public statements that seemed to encourage or condone those killings. In February 2009, he told reporters: “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.”
The spate of killings in Davao City attracted the attention of the international group Human Rights Watch (HRW). HRW conducted a study and released a 103-page report entitled, “You Can Die Any Time: Death Squad Killings in Mindanao.” The report detailed the involvement of police and local government officials in targeted killings of alleged drug dealers and petty criminals, street children, and others, and described the lack of any effort by the authorities to investigate the killings and bring the culprits to justice.
But Davaoeños liked what Duterte was doing for their city. In the Official Website of Davao City, it featured him on February 25, 2012, to wit: “ ‘Digong’, as his closest friends call him, or ‘Rody’, or simply, ‘Duterte’, may have ruled Davao City with what some call ‘iron-fist’, and rid the city of criminals. His hatred for criminals changed Davao City; from the ‘Murder Capital of the Philippines’ to the ‘One of the Most Peaceful Cities in the Philippines’.”
“Duterte for President”
Under Duterte’s leadership, Davao earned a string of awards, both local and international, year after year. These accolades are a testament to his vision of a crime-free city. It’s no wonder then that Davaoeños reelected him 1992 and 1995. Termed out in 1998, he ran for the House of Representatives and won as congressman representing Davao City’s 1st District. In 2001, he ran again for mayor and was elected to his fourth term. He was reelected in 2004 and 2007. Termed out again in 2010, he ran for vice-mayor of Davao City while his daughter Sara “Inday” Duterte-Carpio ran for mayor. In 2013, Sara decided not to run for reelection; thus, paving the way for her father’s comeback as the city’s mayor. Duterte ran again for mayor and was elected to his seventh term.
After he was elected mayor in 2013, Davao City received another accolade: The world’s “fourth safest place” in a poll conducted by the website Numbeo.com. Out of 349 entries, Davao City was the only metropolis in the Philippines that made it to the “Top 10.” The result was posted online, which was lauded by netizens all over the country. Some of the postings said, “Duterte for President.”
Last February 12, President Benigno Aquino III was in Davao City to attend a summit meeting of the leaders of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). According to reports, Aquino did not smoke in compliance with Davao City’s strict “no smoking” policy. He also ordered his convoy to adhere to the city’s speed limit policy. This elicited reaction from Duterte who told reporters, “We have a law-abiding President.”
But even his daughter Sara Duterte-Carpio, was not exempt from these policies. Last month, the police reportedly arrested her for violating the speed limit policy.
Back in 2002, an article appeared in TIME Magazine that tagged Duterte as “The Punisher.” It portrayed him as mayor, legislator, judge, jury, and – possibly – executioner, all rolled into one. It’s a reputation that he built over the years, which transformed his city from a haven for criminals to one of the most peaceful places on Earth. Indeed, after more than 25 years in public service, Duterte has yet to mellow out as an anti-crime crusader.
But notwithstanding all the good things that had happened in Davao City, one wonders if Duterte’s use of the Machiavellian aphorism, “The means justifies the end,” was compatible with democratic principles, which begs the question: “Is the Filipino worth killing for?”