DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 29 January) — Supporters of President Rodrigo Duterte cite so many accomplishments in his first 18 months in office, particularly for the marginalized sector, such as free medicines, free college tuition, free irrigation, a raise in the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) and social security pension, higher pay for soldiers and police personnel, quick response to problems of Overseas Filipino workers.
But these are usually relegated to the background as the President, in his public engagements, talks mostly about his war on drugs, corruption and criminality.
MindaNews asked him what he thought were his major accomplishments in his 18 months in office. His reply: “Day to day governance. Nothing special. I cannot maybe highlight anything there except I have managed to control at least the law and order. As .. for drugs, medyo humina (somehow weakened) and we were able to improve law and order in this country.”
He admits the drugs apparatus he vowed to destroy has not been destroyed.
“Drugs is everywhere and even America who has all the money, power and equipment is having a problem and they have followed suit, declaring the war on drugs as a national security concern. So kung hindi nga ma-control ng America tayo pa?”
As Presidential candidate, Duterte vowed to stop corruption, illegal drugs and criminality in three to six months.
“Look. That was when I was campaigning. I was then a mayor .. I did not have access to all information relevant about drugs. When I became President, to my horror I realized the true dimensions of the drug problem. I didn’t even know that there were generals involved, that people of Customs were also there to expedite the entry. I was a simple minded man and I thought that it could only be as expansive, if you will,” he told MindaNews on January 12.
On his third month as President, Duterte asked for another six months and on December 6 last year, asked for another year.
But what can be expected by December 2018, his 30th month in office and self-imposed deadline to end drugs? Duterte says he envisions a Philippines — or at least a Metro Manila (which gave him the vote in the May 2016 election) — similar to the Davao City he governed as mayor for 22 years, where “you can walk around anytime of the day or night. Nobody, nobody is molested now … No more murderous holdups, less if at all. Baka makaya ko doon sa Maynila.”
“At a price”
He admits the illegal drugs trade in Davao City has not been totally eradicated — “it constricts and expands, sometimes more supply, less supply” but as mayor, he says he was able to control the flow of drugs here “at a price.”
“People were killed in the process,” he said.
As mayor, Duterte repeatedly said there were no state-sanctioned killings, that it was not just a slap on the Davao police but on him that the vigilantes — the so-called Davao Death Squad (DDS) who summarily executed people even in broad daylight — could not be stopped.
“The mayor has the operational control of the police. It’s a slap on me. I admit full responsibility for the failure of the police to catch the vigilantes,” he told MindaNews in November 2001.
Eight years later, at the Commission on Human Rights’ (CHR) “consultation/public inquiry on extralegal killings” on March 30, 2009, Duterte repeated previous pronouncements, but this time under oath, that there were no state-sponsored killings in the city.
Addressing CHR chair Leila de Lima, he said, “if there is an iota of evidence” that he, the military or police, were behind the killings, “before you leave for Manila, you will have my resignation as mayor of Davao City.”
A week later, the New York-based Human Rights Watch released its 103-page report on “death squad killings in Mindanao.” Titled “You Can Die Anytime,” the report “found evidence of complicity and at times direct involvement of government officials and members of the police” in the DDS killings.
Reacting to the report, Duterte said that if the CHR and HRW Executive Director Kenneth Roth “do not like what’s happening here, they better not come here anymore if they think that Davao City is a dangerous place.”
“They won’t understand me: they speak of human rights, I speak of securing the welfare of the entire city,” he said.
As President, Duterte has maintained the same stand and has dismissed criticisms against his bloody war on drugs.
Human rights groups have cited figures of at least 12,000 persons killed in the war on drugs since Duterte became President. Government’s official record is 3,987 killed and 119,361 arrested in anti-drug operations from July 1, 2016 to January 17, 2018.
“When you destroy, you kill”
A lawyer and former governent prosecutor, the President admits there were killings here while he was mayor but denies these were summary executions, as vehemently as he denies charges of extrajudicial killings under his Presidency.
“I did not say you go and look for Maximo Santos and if you see him just kill him, you arrest him or kill him or on bended knees, pleading for his life, I would sanction killing. That’s murder,” he said.
In February last year, retired SPO3 Arturo Lascanas, a Davao policeman who testified in October 2016 that the DDS was just a “media hype,” recanted his statement in a press conference at the Senate. He said the DDS is real, that he was one of its leaders, that Edgar Matobato, the self-confessed DDS hitman who alleged that Duterte founded the DDS, was a member and that they received orders from the mayor who gave them money for every kill mission.
Duterte denied the allegations of Matobato and Lascanas.
“When I was a mayor, I said ‘destroy the drug industry, do not destroy my city.’ Do not deprive us of our young daughters, our children because I will kill you. When you destroy, you kill,” he said.
But he denied ordering murder. “I did not say that you kill him even if he is innocent. That would be the most stupid thing that I can even think of to utter in public. I have to be strong because at this time in our national life, respect for the law seems to be not there anymore. So you have to enforce the fear. Eh wala nang nagrerespeto. Everybody was into it, nobody was minding how many persons or how many lives they will destroy in the process. So they just bullsh_ted everything so I came into the picture and I said I’m building a city, do not f_ck with it, do not destroy it because I need money to build a city. I am not a policeman, I am not a soldier, I am a mayor and am building a city.”
Duterte has not lost an election since he joined the electoral arena in 1988, after serving as OIC Vice Mayor in 1986-1987. He says the people’s support to him and his family is largely due to “good goverance” and this is why he did not file his certificate of candidacy for President until his daughter Sara agreed to be the substitute candidate for mayor.
Sara won the mayoralty but tendered her resignation on July 1, Day 1 of the Duterte adminsitration.
He did not accept her resignation. “Mapahiya ako kasi sabi ko hindi ako magtakbo ng .. Presidente na ang tao na maiwan ko dito .. sayang ang ilang taong piñatay ko, ilang taong kinatay ko para lang maganito ang Davao. Ilang taong sinipa ko, sinampal ko para, tapos masira? Gusto ko yung tao pareho sa akin hawakan talaga niya. It is not enough that – Machiavelli- it is not enough that they love you, you must be feared so that you will be obeyed. Yan ang problema sa politika natin. Ngayon kung hindi sila matakot, na matakot lang man sila kang Duterte, lalo na kang Inday (Sara) kasi nangbugbog.”