The Mayor as President (4): The Fear Factor

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 30 January) — At the Christmas party with Davao media last month, President Rodrigo Duterte waxed nostalgic about his early days as mayor, when he dealt with a city that was trying to recover from the daily killings in the last days of the Marcos dictatorship.

Duterte said he dealt with the New People’s Army first by coming up with a modus vivendi with them to spare the city, then dealt with criminals whom he warned should leave the city or he would kill them.

“My resolve was not really to play it safe. My resolve was to just equalize the terror that was being perpetrated upon people,” he said.

“Equalize the terror” or “enforce fear” has become Duterte’s goverance style from the time he became mayor of Davao City in 1988 to his new role now as President of the Philippines.

“It is not enough that they love you, you must be feared so that you will be obeyed,” he told MindaNews at the Presidential Guest House on January 12, paraphrasing Machiavelli.

He struck terror while he was mayor, warning kidnappers, drug pushers rapists and other criminals to leave the city or they would be killed.

His bloody war against illegal drugs and criminality in the city landed him on the pages of Time Magazine in 2002 as “The Punisher.”

Duterte also enforced fear while on the campaign trail, his expletive-filled speeches horrifying the elite but endearing him to the massses.

He warned he would dump criminals into Manila Bay, sending alarm signals to those who saw him as “killer-mayor” but drawing laughter among those who dismissed it as Binisaya humor.

He was unfazed by criticisms that he was behind the killing of around a thousand suspected drug pushers and other criminals in Davao City, challenging critics to file charges against him.

In his Sunday television program on May 24, 2015, Mayor Duterte said: “Pag by chance that God will place me there, magbantay kayo, kay ang 1,000 (victims) na ito maging 100,000. Diyan mo makita tataba yung isda diyan sa Manila Bay, dyan ko kayo itapon” (If by chance that God will place me there, watch out, because the 1,000 victims will become 100,000. I will dump them in Manila Bay to fatten the fish there).

Duterte also promised to humiliate those who would stand in his way, like human rights groups.

He dared them to come and file a case directly in court. “Just execute an affidavit then … when it’s my time for cross examination, mamatay na lang sila, I will cross examine you until kingdom come….to put you in shame.”

Duterte as President would hurl the same challenge to critics and human rights defenders, including Agnes Callamard, United Nations special rapporteur on summary executions. 

“We sowed intrigues”

Duterte won the Presidency on May 9, 2016, with 16 million votes and a six million margin.

Immediately thereafter, the spate of killings of suspects in the illegal drugs trade in Metro Manila began. Duterte said they had nothing to do with those killings but later admitted they “sowed intrigues” among groups suspected to be involved in the illegal drugs trade who then elimintated each other.

“So we sowed intrigues. I got it from reading so many books about Mafia. … sayang walang Mafia dito. I could be the head of Omerta. Bright na ako diyan sa intriga and we started that,” he said on August 29, 2016 in Malacanang, at the anniversary of the Volunteers Against Ceime and Corruption.

As President-elect, he declared a boycott on media on June 2, 2016. vowing not to talk to them until the end of his term (he lifted it on July 25 that year). He expressed irritation over an alleged “impertinent question” about his health raised by a journalist he mistakenly named. Months later he would lambast the country’s major media companies – ABS-CBN, Philippine Daily Inquirer and the online news site Rappler.

The Securities and Exchange Commission revoked Rappler’s regisration this month for allegedly violating the Constitution and the Anti-Dummy Law, a move that Rappler’s chief Maria Ressa said was not only a corporate issue but a press freedom issue as well. Duterte denied having a hand in the revocation, claiming the SEC is composed mostly of appointees of his predecessor, Benigno Simeon Aquino III.

The lists

On July 1, 2016, Day One of his administration, the President named alleged corrupt poliee generals, and on August 7, 2016, read from a supposed “validated’ list of 163, names of alleged suspects in the illegal drugs trade, a list that would become several inches thick by yearend 2016.

The list, which included seven judges, made Supreme Court Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno write the President on August 8, that she would caution the judges — only four of whom were in active service — not to ‘surrender’ to the police unless warrants of arrests have been issued against them.

In response, Duterte in a speech at the 4th Infantry Division in Camp Edilberto Evangelista in Cagayan De Oro City on August 9, warned he would declare martial law if the Chief Justice would get in the way of his fight against illegal drugs. This was the first time Duterte as President, threatened to declare martial law.

In his 18 months in office, Duterte struck fear as he warned criminals, drug pushers and users, critics, corrupt government workers and security forces, human rights groups, the media, the church, the judiciary, the Ombudsman, etc..

He also warned terrorists like the Abu Sayyaf and in a speech before the Wallace Business Forum in Malacanang on December 12, 2016, dared the Maute Group to go ahead and burn Marawi. He said the Maute had warned they would burn Marawi if the military operations won’t stop “and I said, ‘go ahead, do it. We need to do a lot of constructions in this country. There are a lot of materials there and we will be glad to rebuild and rehabilitate every structure that you destroy. As long it’s confined in the areas of Lanao, I don’t really care.”

Martial law

He would repeatedly warn about imposting martial law and on March 9, 2017, before Mindanao’s governors and mayors at the SMX Convention Center, announced, “Wala akong choices so mag-usap tayo. Either tulungan ninyo ako or I will declare martial law tomorrow for Mindanao.”

On May 23, barely eight hours after the Maute Group and its allies laid siege on Marawi after government forces failed to arrest the Abu Sayyaf’s Isnilon Hapilon there, Duterte declared martial law over Mindanao’s 27 provinces and 33 cities and had it extended twice, until December 31, 2018.

While he revived peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front in the early part of his Presidency, even declared a unilateral ceasefire and ordered the release of imprisoned NDF members so they could join the peace panel, he would threaten to have them re-arrested when there were snags in the peace process. Eventually, Duterte called off the talks in November 2017 and in December declared the NPA and Communist Party of the Philippines as terrorist organizations.

Duterte dismisses criticisms against his leadership. He said he won the election on the basis of what he had to offer to the electorate.

“What was the flavor of (my) mouth or (my) personality? I am not handsome, I do not pretend to be but I carried the simplest message that the people wanted to hear from the mouths of the candidates and what was that? Corruption in government, tapos sabi ko drugs because it is wreaking havoc to my country and I will deal with the NPAs, I will deal with the revolutionary fronts. Ginawa ko. I complied with my promise,” Duterte said on January 12. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)

Tomorrow: THE MAYOR AS PRESIDENT (5): The Davao Factor, The Davao Group


The Mayor as President (3): We were able to improve law and order in this country 

The Mayor as President (2): Waking up Sunday to Duterte’s list, read while the nation was fast asleep 

The Mayor as President (1): “Make Davao City the country’s seat of power”

SIDEBAR: Duterte on weekly travels home: no gov’t funds used