ADVOCACY MINDANOW: ‘I will kill you’

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/13 January) — When Davao City Mayor Rody Duterte threatened rice smugglers in general with “I will kill you”, he did not violate any law.

However, if he tells you to your face: “I will kill you” you can file criminal charges against him for grave threats. If in fact, you get killed later, he can be charged for murder or homicide, as the case may be, using the earlier threat as evidence if there are other corroborating evidences.

But if the threat is general or “generic” or is directed at no particular person but to a sector or group and the identity of the one threatened cannot be ascertained, then there is no crime committed. Or at the very least, there is no complainant to claim redress. Unless of course someone crazy comes forward, admits himself as the rice smuggler and claims it was specifically directed at him.

That was the reason why the Commission on Human Rights called the mayor’s latest tirade as simply “unethical”, nothing criminal.

But here is something worrisome.

We (and that includes “ME”) applaud and feel good hearing that a drug pusher or a robber or a trouble-maker or a murderer gets killed or gunned down. “Good for him, he deserves it”, expressed in many ways in the vernacular like “karma, “dapat lang”, tama gyud”, “maayo ra gyud”, “gaba”, “mirisi”!

We rejoice that the so-called bad elements are eliminated for good, never to bother us again. We thank the police for shooting them down. And we never bother to find out whether the killing was justified under the rules of engagement. We always say: never mind bringing these bad elements to court or sending them to jail. “Kapoy na!” (” No use”)

This is the popular sentiment.

In fact, when Mayor Duterte uses his favorite threats to criminals: “I will kill you”, people like it. He is admired not only here in Davao but all over. Mayor Duterte, a lawyer, knows he is not allowed to “kill”. But he has reasons for bringing his campaign against violators of the law to the next level. Clearly, his intention is to instill fear and deter more crimes, as in terrorizing the terrorists. And yes, at times with dead bodies to boot for good effect. But if you ask me, this is worrisome.

Let’s briefly pause and think about this for a while. Is the public now enamored or charmed about quick, swift justice? Can we now do shortcuts and forget about going through the usual route of getting justice done? Is our justice system now so shot and so lacking in capability and credibility that we are just too happy to skip it? Are we all desperate for quick fixes, never mind going through the normal route? Are our usual rules no longer effective or working?

We always hear the call for primacy of human rights; that every person, rich or poor, the high and the lowly alike have the same human rights — including even criminals.

“Human rights” exist NOT because of some laws or some grant from the constitution or from government. They arise from the very nature of being a person. It is the essence of being. You violate one’s human rights and you cross the line. You violate a universal law of humanity. Again, let’s not forget: even criminals have human rights, too.

When an unarmed “akyat bahay” gangmember is killed, while in the act of stealing or eluding arrest we no longer ask or bother about the circumstances surrounding his killing. Was the police justified in shooting him to death? Under our laws, unless he forcibly resists and puts in peril the life or limb of others, there is no justification to take away his life. (Oooops, there’s a firearm usually recovered near the dead body — never mind if this was “planted” for effect.) But we don’t bother with this technicality anymore. Glad to see him dead!

When we hear about “riders in tandem” gunning down bad elements, we quietly say: “Good for them.” Many summary killings and murders remain unsolved. The public fascination for the so-called Davao Death Squad (DDS) continues up to now, never mind if it is just doing a “job” for some aggrieved “customer”. We do not even bother ask or — expect — the police and the authorities to solve those “salvagings.” “Charge this to the DDS” is a common escape. Only the immediate survivors cry for justice but this is short-lived as there is no communal or collective indignation. We conveniently support eliminating the “dregs and scums of the earth” quick and fast.

A Manila taxi driver at the airport upon my arrival a few days ago told me:

“Taga Davao kayo sir? Ang galing ng Davao. Patay lahat nang mga masasama. Yan ang dapat!” Symptomatic of our times?

And yes, lest we forget, even convicted criminals of high crimes cannot be put to death (through electrocution or lethal injection) simply because we have removed death penalty from our statute books. Not even the State, with basis, can take someone else’s life. So why do we applaud when others “play God”? (Lawyer Jesus G. Dureza was government peace panel chair in the negotiations with the MILF under the Arroyo administration from 2001 to 2003 and was later named Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (2005 to 2008). He heads Advocacy MindaNOW Foundation, Inc. and was recently named publisher of the Davao City-based Mindanao Times. This piece is from his syndicated column, Advocacy MindaNOW.)