Impunity and the rule of law

>> Tuesday, January 3, 2017

By Val G. Abelgas 

Be careful what you wish for.
When Filipinos wished their next president would be a strong leader, one who would not be afraid to strictly enforce the law even if it goes against those wielding wealth and power, they did not envision a despotic leader who would ignore the rule of law, and enforce his will even if it violates the law.
Now, we have in our midst a leader who does not only have a penchant to disrespect the rule of law, but one who threatens anyone that blocks his way as he pursues his one-track quest to rid the country of illegal drugs and anyone who peddles or uses them.
More than 6,000 bodies lay on the wayside less than six months since President Duterte became leader of the more than 100 million Filipinos and he vows to relentlessly pursue his brutal drug war until the last drug user or peddler has been removed from the streets.
He has launched personal battles with those who dared criticize his method of cleansing the country of criminals and drug addicts, including endless tirades against leaders of the free world – the United States, the United Nations, the European Union, Australia and so many others, calling them “hypocrites” and “sons of whore” and warning to cut ties with them.
He threatened to demolish his biggest local critic – Sen. Leila de Lima – that gave his loyal lackeys in the House of Representatives the go-signal to launch the biggest demolition job ever in that House of Honorables. To her credit, De Lima has fought back valiantly where others may have folded silently.
Even before he officially became President of the Philippines, Duterte had already threatened media by saying that media members are fair game for assassinations if they were corrupt, which perhaps explain why some publications and broadcast media have become tame and meek amidst the daily murders happening in the country.
And then he threatened police, judges and local officials nationwide by claiming he has a list of people engaged in “narco-politics” and that he wouldn’t hesitate to include them in his brutal campaign. In no time, officials who learned they were on the list surrendered to authorities to deny such accusations, but some of them ended up dead anyway after allegedly fighting it out with lawmen. Those who were not in the list dare not cross his path.
The Supreme Court protested the inclusion of judges in the list and Chief Justice Sereno ordered judges not to issue warrants unless they are within the bounds of the law, but which judge would dare defy the police who have been virtually given blanket authority by the President in his war against illegal drugs by saying he would protect policemen and even reward them if they killed suspected drug users and pushers?
Recently, Duterte also threatened to include lawyers of suspected drug lords in the war against drugs, which completes his trampling of the rule of law and the basic rights provided by the Constitution, which gives suspects the right to be deemed innocent until proven guilty, to have a fair trial, and to have legal representation.
While we understand Duterte’s frustration with the slow grind of the wheels of justice, the three branches of government – the Executive, Legislative and Judiciary – should sit down and find ways to get the wheels moving faster and not scrap the suspects’ rights altogether just because those tasked to render justice have been negligent in their duties.
But the most troubling sign that the rule of law has no place in this administration is when Duterte categorically stated during an event commemorating the UN Convention of Corruption last week that despite the findings of the Department of Justice and the National Bureau of Investigation that the killing of Mayor Roland Espinosa and another detainee inside a Leyte prison by elements of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) was a “rubout,” Duterte said he stood by the CIDG’s claim that they killed Espinosa after the latter shot it out with them while they were serving a search warrant in the dead of night.
“I will not allow these guys to go to prison. I don’t care if the NBI says it was murder. Anyway, the NBI and the Department of Justice (DOJ) are both under [my authority],” Duterte said during a speech last week, referring to the CIDG operatives.
“I will be the one to answer for it and go to prison. I have no problem with that. When I was young, I went in and out of prison. I’m used to it,” he said. He added: “For us mayors, who will we believe? The policemen or [the] criminals? If the police said that’s really the truth, but the NBI said it was murder, what the police told me is the truth for me.”
His statement was a clear rejection of the findings of the NBI and the DOJ, which recommended the filing of murder charges against them CIDG men. In his arrogance, Duterte wouldn’t even allow criminal proceedings to go through the normal processes. Even if the case goes to court, there is always the statement of the President no less hanging over the heads of the NBI, the prosecutors and the judge. Would they dare embarrass the President?
De Lima hinted that the President could be impeached for his statement, to which Duterte replied with his usual arrogant line: “They can go ahead. Maraming daldal (They talk too much). I have to satisfy their lust for whatever. Let them be. Impeachable? Go ahead.”
This recent outbursts by the President in defense of policemen contribute immensely to the culture of impunity in the country. His stubborn defense of policemen involved in extrajudicial killings only embolden murderers to commit their criminal acts with heightened impunity.
During the campaign, Duterte promised that he would pardon policemen who kill criminals, or even civilians, in the line of duty. Also during the campaign in February, Duterte said he would provide a “pre-signed form” to law enforcers, which would assure the latter of presidential pardon should they get prison terms for deaths during encounters with criminals.
Candidate Duterte also said that if he got elected, he would direct policemen and the military to not be deterred in killing “all” criminals because it is his “personal order.”
These statements obviously emboldened policemen and vigilantes to start shooting down suspects as soon as it was clear that Duterte would be president, assured that they would go unpunished.
What is even alarming is that Duterte has rejected all opposition to his brutal war on drugs and arrogantly declares that the killings would continue until the last drug user or pusher has been placed out of commission. By his own estimate, there are 3.4 million drug addicts and dealers in the country. Does that mean we are just seeing the beginning of a deep-seethed cleansing and that we should expect more bloodied bodies on our streets?
Impunity feeds on the breakdown of the rule of law. (


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