By Perry Diaz
Five weeks after former Davao City Mayor Rodrigo “Digong” Duterte was sworn in as President of the Philippines, his promise to rid the country of criminality and illegal drugs is paying off.
To date, more than 400 people – drug lords, drug pushers, drug addicts, house thieves, and other kinds of criminals — have been killed and more than 4,000 captured. But here’s the stinger: police say that 565,806 have turned themselves in since the crackdown began. And by the looks of it, the purge had just started. What we’re seeing is just the tip of a bloody iceberg that’s sending chills down the spine of those who are involved in the country’s illegal drug trade. Yes! Finally, the government is coming down on them with vengeful fury.
Are we expecting this to happen? Yes, because that’s precisely what Duterte promised he’d do if he were elected president. He vowed that he would get rid of criminality and illegal drugs in the country in three to six months. And the people said, yesss! He said he’d kill 100,000 criminals and dump their bodies in the Manila Bay to fatten the fishes, and the people loved it!
He went on to ride the crest of a popular movement to fight crime and corruption that has laid the country in a dysfunctional state and emotional ruins where life is the cost of a meal. Digong knew these problems because those were the same problems he fought in the 22 years that he was mayor of Davao City. He fixed Davao’s crime problems and he promised the voters he’d fix the country’s crime problems if they elect him to the presidency. Not only did they give him what he wanted, the people gave him a mandate… a bloody mandate!
Some say his victory was sweet and romantic. Nay, it was an earthshaking revolution. It was no different from any other revolution where blood is necessarily spilled to cleanse the foundation for a new social order to be built upon.
Digong and Bato
And leading Duterte’s “enforcers” is his most trusted police commander, Gen. Ronald Dela Rosa, whom he appointed as the Director General of the Philippine National Police (PNP). “Bato,” as Dela Rosa is called, is charged with the daunting task of cleaning up the 160,000-strong police force of erring officers involved in the illegal drug trade and getting rid of the drug lords they were protecting, including corrupt politicians who were in cahoots with the drug traders.
At midnight last Sunday, August 7, Duterte dropped a bombshell when he named a long list of mayors, congressmen, judges, policemen, and soldiers whom he accused of involvement in the drug trade. One-by-one he read the names in a nationally televised speech. He said that the police and military had validated the names, but he added: “I am the one reading it and I am the sole person responsible for this one.” He also stripped the accused government officials of their police escorts and relieved the policemen who were on the list as well. To drive his point across, Duterte issued shoot-to-kill orders against those who resisted arrest.
The first on the list was Albuera, Leyte mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr. who surrendered to Dela Rosa after hearing that Duterte ordered to “shoot him on sight like a dog” because he was treating the people like dogs. Meanwhile, Espinosa’s son, Kerwin, who is alleged to be the drug lord responsible for the illicit drug trade in Eastern Visayas, is believed to be hiding somewhere in Malaysia. He had sent surrender feelers, saying that he’d only surrender personally to Bato. So far, no final arrangement has been made.
But it’s not just politicians and drug traders who are being hit by Bato’s “avengers” – as his special anti-drug police squads are called. It just seems that Bato is living up to a popular Filipino adage, which says: “Bato bato sa langit ang tamaan huwag magalit.” Loosely translated, it says: “When I throw a stone up in the air, don’t get mad if you’re hit on its way down.”
Nobody is exempt from this adage as what had happened to PNP Superintendent Victor Pagulayan — station commander of a barangay (village) in Quezon City — for his alleged failure to rid his area of rampant criminality and illegal drugs. He’s been “exiled” to the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARRM) where he joined about 44 other “exiled” police officers for their involvement in the illegal drug trade. Incidentally, this was the region where 44 members of PNP’s Special Action Force (SAF) were massacred by Muslim rebels in Mamasapano, Maguindanao in 2015.
“We are far from over,” declared Bato. “We still have five months to go. More lives will be lost along the way be they criminals or those of my own men,” he said.
Lone voice in the wilderness
But while the people were awed and shocked at the speed and intensity of Duterte’s anti-crime campaign, there was one person – Vice President Leni Robredo — who questioned the “extrajudicial killings.” She also deplored the absence of public outcry against the alarming increase in the number of drug traders killed by policemen or vigilante groups.
But could it be that the reason why there is lack of public outcry is because the people are fed up with the criminality that has engulfed their lives? Could it be that their lives’ security hinges on the elimination of society’s number one scourge? Could it be that people are so downtrodden and frustrated that what Digong and Bato achieve would justify the means they employ?
But where do you draw the line between right and wrong or between life and death? We don’t have the answers right now but there is always an opportunity to revisit this question at an appropriate time in the future.
And this reminds me of the French Revolution, which had put to an end the centuries of oppression and poverty in a society divided into two distinct classes: the haves and the have-nots. In the end, the people achieved what they wanted: liberty, equality, and fraternity. But it came with a stiff price: It was a bloody revolution and the collateral damage was high. But what was the alternative?
In Duterte’s revolution, there is not a shadow of a doubt that there would be collateral damage; that is, innocent people would be killed. Some people would use the situation to take revenge against people who had hurt them in the past. And this had happened a whole lot at times in wars where justice might sometime take a back seat or turn a blind eye. But what can one do to avoid collateral damage? Some people say that it comes with the territory. Could it then be rationalized by saying that killing nine criminals and one innocent person is better than letting these nine criminals live to harm a thousand innocent people? It might sound convoluted but that is the reality of life in this imperfect world.
So, when Bato throws a stone up in the air, don’t get mad if you’re hit on its way down.” Yep, “Bato bato sa langit ang tamaan huwag magalit.”
Caveat: The “bato” that hit you could be Bato Dela Rosa himself.