By Perry Diaz
In the 1880s, the United States’ western and southwestern territories had become known as the “Wild, Wild West,” where gunslingers ruled and bounty killers abounded. One of the most popular movies that memorialized the bloody history of the “West” was the 1957 movie, “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.” It was so popular that several remakes were made years later, including two versions that were released almost simultaneously: “Tombstone” and “Wyatt Earp,” where the good guys – led by Wyatt Earp — fought the bad guys known as the “Cowboys.”
What’s interesting is that Wyatt Earp, his brothers, and a reputed gunslinger named John Henry “Doc” Holliday – a dentist who preferred pumping slugs than pulling teeth — went after the “Cowboys” wearing U.S. Marshall badges, which gave them implied authority to kill the bad guys. They’re sort of an earlier American version of the modern-day British screen licensed-to-kill agent, “007.”
Fast forward to May 9, 2016. Davao City Mayor Rodrigo “Digong” Duterte won the presidency by a landslide. He ran on a promise to rid the country of criminals and drug dealers within six months. But he didn’t present a plan on how to fight crime and stop the flooding of drugs into the country. He merely said that he’d kill 100,000 criminals and throw their bodies into the Manila Bay to make the fish fat. He might not mean it literally, but that would send shivers down the spines of criminals.
And to make sure that everybody in the criminal underworld gets the message, he picked his most trusted law enforcement officer and friend, Chief Superintendent Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, to be the top honcho of the Philippine National Police (PNP).
Indeed, if Wyatt Earp had his Doc Holliday, Digong has his Bato dela Rosa. Wyatt Earp did not stop until all the Cowboys were killed. Duterte gave Bato six months to finish the drug dealers. And Bato said, he’s ready.
Wanted: Dead or Alive
To rid the country of criminals and drug lords, Duterte offered bounties for their capture, dead or alive, preferably dead. At a rally, he told his cheering followers, “If they are there in your neighborhood, feel free to call us, the police or do it yourself if you have the gun. You have my support.” “If he fights, and he fights to the death, you can kill him,” he added. He promised them monetary reward … and a medal. “I will pay, for a drug lord, five million pesos if he is dead. If he is alive, only 4.999 million,” he said, laughing.
He told around 500,000 followers during his thanksgiving party in Davao City: “Corruption must stop. I would have to ask about three generals diyan sa (Camp) Crame to resign. Do not wait for me to name you in public because I will only humiliate you.” However, he refused to name the three generals.
But Duterte is not only after drug dealers, corrupt generals and police officers. He’s also after corrupt government officials including Cabinet Secretaries. Yep, he’s not going to spare anybody. The question is: Does he have the political will to punish erring political allies, particularly his friends and classmates whom he appointed to cabinet positions? Which reminds me of President Aquino’s KKK (Kaibigan, Kaklase, Kabarilan), many of whom had erred but he didn’t have the courage to fire them.
Aquino loved to say, “Heads will roll” but nothing happened, which only proved that political ties are like the Gordian Knot, you cannot untie it with bare hands. But Alexander the Great knew better that he could do it with a sword and he did it. It worked. Could Duterte do it? Or should I say, “Would he do it?” Perhaps he should ask all his appointees to submit undated resignation letters that he could accept anytime at his pleasure.
Hang ‘em high
One of the things he’d like to accomplish during his presidency is to urge Congress to restore death penalty by hanging, which was abolish in 2006 during Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s presidency. It’s interesting to note that if the death penalty were restored, it would also restore death penalty for the crime of plunder. This would certainly make lawmakers – particularly those involved in the pork barrel scam — cringe in terror just at the thought of being hanged for plundering the people’s money. They’d probably invoke their “Christian beliefs” as pretense for objecting to the restoration of the death penalty.
Needless to say, Duterte would be faced with strong opposition from all quarters. But while the people might be ready and willing to fight — and kill — the drug dealers, it doesn’t seem like they’re as enthused with the idea of stamping out corruption, which is ingrained in every facet of the people’s lives. In essence, what took centuries to take root in our society, would probably take as much time to uproot, if not longer… if ever.
But while Duterte is confronted by a strong defiance to make drastic changes to the Filipinos’ way of life, he can start by enforcing strict discipline to his official family — that is, rule with an iron hand – while showing compassion for the “common tao.”
There is a term for that: benevolent dictator. However, benevolence over time can turn into abuse of power, which was the pitfall of a lot of leaders who had succumbed to the same vice – corruption — that they vowed to eradicate. As Lord Acton said more than century ago: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” It was true then, it is still true today.
Faced with such a dilemma – damn if he does and damn if he doesn’t – Duterte may have to bite the bullet and do the best he could to fight corruption, regardless of who gets hurt, friend or foe alike. The irony of this is that it is harder to punish a friend than an enemy. You can always make new enemies anytime. But building friendships takes a lifetime, which makes one wonder: How many friends would Digong still has left at the end of his presidency? And how many enemies would he have hung by then? Wouldn’t that be the true measure of his promise to kill the drug lords and hang the plunderers?
But the drug lords are taking Digong’s threat seriously. Bato dela Rosa disclosed the other day during a TV interview with Karen Davila that he received information from the grapevine that the drug lords have put a P50-million bounty on the heads of Digong and himself. He said that the initial bounty they offered was only P10 million for each and there were no takers, which makes one wonder: How high would the bidding go? But right now, bounty killers have already eliminated some drug dealers. And the six-month deadline Digong gave Bato to finish the work has yet to begin.
Yep, Digong’s bounty killers are already at work. Welcome to Tombstone, Philippines.