By Perry Diaz
A Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey conducted last September 24-26 showed Duterte receiving a public satisfaction rating of 76%, “dissatisfied” rating of 11%, and “undecided” rating of 13%. According to SWS, Duterte’s +54 “net satisfaction” rating is better than most of his post-EDSA revolution predecessors, except for Fidel V. Ramos who scored +66 in 1992.
During that same period last September, the SWS survey showed that 84% of the respondents are satisfied with the ongoing campaign against illegal drugs, while 8% are dissatisfied and 8% are undecided. The question asked was: “Please tell me how satisfied or dissatisfied you are with the performance of government in its campaign against illegal drugs?”
What SWS survey reveals?
But here is the stinger: 94% of the respondents believed the importance of keeping the drug suspects alive during police operations. Only 6% believed that it was not important. The question asked was: “In the police’s fulfillment of their duty in the campaign against illegal drugs, in your opinion, how important is it that they arrest suspects allegedly involved in the illegal drug trade alive?”
Is it then fair to presume that the respondents believed that killing the drug suspects should be avoided and that the police shouldn’t be trigger-happy when arresting drug suspects?
It brings to fore the question: Are the police trained to avoid killing the drug suspects whenever possible? Or, is Duterte’s “shoot to kill” order encouraging the police officers to use their guns as a “first resort” instead of “last resort.”
This brings to mind a cliché that’s used in police operations, to wit: “Shoot first, ask questions later.” Although no police department would openly encourage its policemen to shoot first and ask questions later, there is a culture within the law enforcement community that a policeman should always be ready to shoot first and ask questions later. Their mindset is: It’s either they shoot first or they’re dead.
However, the “Shoot first, ask questions later” mantra is predicated on a situation where shots weren’t meant to kill but merely wound the target so that the police could question him later. But what has been happening is oftentimes the target ends up dead because the police use high-caliber weapons… and at short range. In other words, it’s not “Shoot first, ask questions later” but “Shoot to kill.” But isn’t that in line with what Duterte wants, which is to kill drug pushers and drug addicts? Didn’t he say during the campaign, “All of you who are into drugs, you sons of bitches, I will really kill you”? Didn’t he offer medals and cash rewards to citizens who killed drug dealers? And few weeks after his oath-taking as president, didn’t he reiterate his vow during his inaugural State of the Nation Address (SONA), saying: ““We will not stop until the last drug lord … and the last pusher have surrendered or are put either behind bars or below the ground, if they so wish”?
After reaching Duterte’s 100th day in office, Communications Secretary Martin Andanar announced in a press conference: “It’s a complete success and the people believe in it. 84% believe in the war against illegal drugs. 700,000 addicts turned themselves in kasama ang (including) 52,000 na drug pushers and drug lords.” He added: “You see crime dropping. Last July, it dropped at 49%. I don’t have it in front of me but I have new data from January to September, crime dropped to about 40 percent.”
While the drop in crime may be attributed to “terror effect” — which was intended against the drug syndicates — it is also terrorizing communities throughout the countries. Citizens are afraid to go out at night lest they be mistaken for drug pushers or users and killed by the police or vigilantes… or people who have an axe to grind against them.
In the long run, extra-judicial killings (EJKs) — or “salvaging,” a Marcos martial law-era jargon — and other indiscriminate killings would corrode the base of “Dutertismo,” a movement based on mass support for Duterte’s leadership in fighting corruption, crime, poverty, and other social problems. But, just like similar events in the history of mankind, there is a caveat here. Abuse of power and the impunity of corruption could turn that “mass support” into “mass protest,” which could mimic the people power revolutions of the past.
It’s interesting to note that one of Duterte’s early and ardent supporters – former President Fidel V. Ramos – wrote in his newspaper column: “In the overall assessment by this writer [Ramos], we find our Team Philippines losing in the first 100 days of Du30’s [Duterte] administration – and losing badly. This is a huge disappointment and letdown to many of us.”
“Death under investigation”
Last September when the SWS survey was taken, the Philippine National Police (PNP) said that 1,011 drug pushers and users were killed from July 1 to September 4. In addition, there were 1,391 deaths considered as “death under investigation” (DUI) or those whose bodies were found with cardboards with the note “Pusher ako” (I am a pusher). A month later, the DUIs have increased to 1,745 cases; however, only 321 cases have been filed against the alleged perpetrators – vigilantes? — of the crime, of which 176 cases were considered solved. However, “solved” in PNP parlance doesn’t mean the perpetrator has been convicted; it merely means that an arrest has been made.
During a media interview, PNP Director General Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa attributed the deaths of suspected drug pushers to illegal drug syndicates purging their own ranks or due to turf wars or double-crosses in drug transactions. “You will be surprised, this is not the handiwork of vigilantes. These alleged vigilante killings, it turned out, are syndicated killings.”
But whether the EJKs were perpetrated by drug syndicates, vigilantes or the police, it is causing international furor because EJKs are considered human rights violations. In particular, U.S. President Barack Obama was concerned about the impunity of EJKs in the Philippines. This did not dwell too well with Duterte, who told Obama, “Go to hell.”
The people’s “message”
The Philippines has been getting military and police financial assistance for many years from the U.S. The military receives at least $200 million a year, of which part of it is used in law enforcement. The U.S. military assistance is in jeopardy or it could be terminated to ensure that it will not be used for EJK operations. A U.S. State Department spokesman explained, “There’s a law called the Leahy Law that requires us to routinely and regularly vet security forces that are getting aid and assistance to make sure that any units that violate international law in that regard do not get aid and assistance.”
Indeed, with all the brouhaha over his controversial “War on Drugs,” Duterte has become an international pariah. Recently, a French daily newspaper, “The Liberation,” in a front-page article, Duterte was described as a “serial killer president.” The four-page story also touched on Duterte’s expletives against Obama and Pope Francis, and his controversial remarks in which he compared Adolf Hitler’s extermination of Jews to his “war on drugs.”
At the end of the day, the “message” from the SWS survey last September is crystal clear: While they want Duterte to stop the drug menace, they want him to do it in a way where killings are avoided. “Stop the killings!” was what the people were saying.
The Filipino people are an extraordinary kind of people. They can tolerate the evils of corruption and endure the pains of poverty. But they are too forgiving of others’ transgressions. And to the Filipino psyche, killing is never an option.
But in the final analysis, when our nation is in pain, there is only one option and that is, we turn to God – we say, “Bahala Na.”