PAGDARO SA KALINAW: Soul Searching and Peaceweaving in the (r)age of Duterte (Part 1)

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/30 October) — The following is an expanded version of my presentation to the Mindanao Peaceweavers network meeting last October 15, 2016.

We are currently living in a state of fear, when it comes to discussing issues of human rights, peace, and the war on drugs. Why do I say this? Because whenever someone mentions or critiques this issue, it elicits statements of anger and vilification from the President and his minions. Thus, to live and work for peace in the current context is to enter not just into the age, but the rage, of Duterte.

Under the current administration’s engagement in the peace process, several key words define its thrusts: Continuity with past agreements, Closure of several long-standing peace tables that have implemented agreements, Convergence of the peace deals between the MILF and MNLF, Community Development as a major if not the primary component of peacebuilding, and Federalism as the framework for determining a new way of sharing power across the nation. 

Although it was an accident, it seems the omission of the justice and healing components (notably the recommendation to create a National Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission on the Bangsamoro (NTJRCB) by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) in a briefing last July at the Apo view hotel, was an indicator of the reality we are facing. So my question is, “Where is the Justice in the peace process?”

Perhaps another way to look at this is to consider the historical long view of the effects of massive and pervasive violence, using the insights shared by Ging Deles, the former presidential advisor to the peace process. During the 2004 conference, “Towards a Non-killing Filipino Society,” held at Kalayaan College in Marikina, Deles described three “Lethal Legacies” of Entrenched Violence on Filipino society:

  1. Upholding power as only enforced through violent force
  2. Contested Identities
  3. Collective Trauma and Amnesia

Thus we should ask ourselves, is the current War on Drugs reinforcing or reducing these legacies? And we should be concerned, because Rufa Guiam and Steven Schoofs already noted in 2013 in the International Alert publication, Violent conflict and the Real Economy of Mindanao:  “a heavy-handed crackdown on the drug economy could trigger a violent response with dire consequences for the peace process.” 

To review the status of the War on Drugs, we note the following:

  • 4,728 are dead as of October 25, including police, innocents, and unknown. I call them unknown, because while they are supposedly guilty of a crime, they have not been through any sort of due process to establish that guilt, and even if they were, would they deserve the death sentence? 
  • Is this an act of extreme frustration with a poor governance or just “business as usual” governance under a new guise? 
  • Is this really the change we voted for? 

I talked with two persons this month, one a local religious leader, the other the daughter of an IP leader summarily executed by rogue rebels, and their perspective was two-fold: skepticism with both activism and political intrigue, stating, “what happens in the Senate means nothing to us in the community,” and, “we have been suffering these kinds of killings long before the current situation.”

Meanwhile, others point out the perceived benefits of the war on drugs, such as:

  • Numerous Voluntary Submission for Reform (VSR)
  • Lessened the influence of the drug trade in some communities
  • Many have benefited from the allied efforts to provide services to those trapped by addiction

So, in order to get a picture for the future of the nation, we turn to Davao, where President Duterte already encouraged the killing approach to crime control starting in 1998. And as goes Davao, so goes the nation. Yet we find the following startling results from Ateneo de Davao’s City-Wide Social Survey (CWSS) startling when one considers the common social media meme that Davao is touted as one of the safest cities in the nation:

After two decades of the extra-judicial killing crime control strategy, drugs were still considered the # 1 threat by Davaoenos, according to the the ADDU’s CWSS Series 5in May 2016, but when you combined threat of “killings” (17%) and “DDS” (13%) categories, the greatest perceived threat was murder. Though 60% believe that the Davao Death Squad (DDS) will help solve criminality, and 54% said it’s ok, still 66% of respondents said they were worried or extremely worried about the DDS. Finally, and not surprisingly, 68% of respondents believed that the justice system in the Philippines is not fair, which is often cited as one of the reasons for the DDS.

So how do we understand this seemingly contradictory data on perceptions of safety, wherein people seem to cheer on the acts of killing even though they are most worried about those very acts, and somehow know they have been ineffective at curbing drugs?

My explanation is based on a model of the cyclical dynamics of domestic abusive and violence that we can modify in order to gain insight into this reality. The social manifestation of this Cycle of Social Violence, as revealed in Davao City, is driven by three elements: Faith-Hope-Fear, that re-generate (over and over again) the overt cycles of seduction, tension, and violence.

Viewing the people of Davao as the (collective) partner in the relationship, this partner holds tightly to the first two elements of faith and hope in the relationship. Abetted by acts of “seduction” by the one in power towards the partner, we understand the surprisingly contradictory positive and emotional attachment to the perpetrator, in spite of his violence: 

– It starts with Faith that our intentions are good and that we – both the perpetrator and victim – are good people at heart and our relationship is really about mutual care and concern; 

– It is reinforced by Hope, that in spite of the history and the rising tension, things will get better, things will change, (“it didn’t start like this, he wasn’t always this way”); and 

– Underlying the faith and hope is Fear, fear that to resist this relationship would elicit either reprisal, stemming from the subtle and not so subtle threats to kill; or, abandonment (to the “drug monster” or whomever is conveniently scapegoated – 20 years ago it was the communists). 

This dynamic perpetuates itself because the alternative way out of the cycle, which is to access the justice system, is perceived as unfair and inutile. So the only option is to hold on to faith and hope, with the reassuring seduction by the perpetrator that he is the only one who can keep the victim safe and repel the bad-guys…which can only be done by killing the kids, but he is really a good person and it wasn’t always like this, (and how would I survive without him?), Plus he said that he loves me. But, oh no, he’s getting mad again because the kids are misbehaving…and so it goes, over and over again…(to be continued).

(Jeremy Simons has lived in the Philippines for over 21 years, the past 7, in Davao City. He works as a peacebuilding trainer and consultant with various academic institutions, NGOs, government programs, as well as partnering with Lumad communities for conflict transformation. Prior to coming to Davao, he lived for 6 years in an urban poor community that was severely affected by drugs, working as a community organizer in neighborhood justice programs, engaging in community policing and transformative justice initiatives. He can be reached at