Rodrigo’s way

Vantage Point | BusinessWorld

Although former Manila mayor Alfredo Lim may have once been in the same league, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte is in many ways unique.

He’s a government official leery of his fellow officials’ capacity to do their jobs. He’s a law and order mayor who allows protests and mass actions in his city as a human right, but who’s been accused by Amnesty International and other human rights groups of the extrajudicial killing of suspected drug pushers and even users.

His police are so meticulous about implementing the law they once cited his own daughter, herself a former Davao City mayor, for speeding in Davao’s streets. But he’s so openly cynical of the law that he’s vowed to kill alleged rice smuggler Davidson Bangayan if he dares operate in Davao City.

Duterte said so even before he appeared at the Senate hearing on rice smuggling on Feb. 2, and he reiterated that vow — the Commission on Human Rights called it a threat — before the Senators of the Republic, at least one of whom described him as his (the senator’s) “idol,” and several of whom were seen nodding their heads in agreement when Duterte declared that his fellow officials talk too much and do too little.

The irony of the situation apparently escaped the senators. Here was an elected official openly and even proudly declaring that he would violate the law — he also said he was prepared to go to prison should he make good on his threat — in the very premises of the upper house of the Philippine Congress, whose business is precisely to craft the laws that, so we were once told in high school civics classes, were necessary in a civilized society. Neither did it occur to any one of them — it certainly didn’t occur to Juan Ponce Enrile — to even mention Duterte’s alleged involvement with Davao’s notorious death squads.

Davao City after all didn’t earn its reputation as “one of Southeast Asia’s most peaceful cities” through the police’s reading crime suspects their Miranda Rights and interrogating them with their lawyers present. That happened mostly because alleged criminals have a tendency to disappear in that city only to be discovered dead in garbage bags or in waterways.

The key words are “suspects” and “alleged.” The courts are supposed to determine whether suspects are indeed criminals, and whether those alleged to have committed a crime are the real culprits. But sick of the criminality that haunts the country’s major cities and impatient with due process, there’s no shortage of people in this Republic who’d gladly turn over their communities to the likes of Rodrigo Duterte, and not too facetiously proclaiming that they’d campaign for a Duterte Presidency.

Apparently even some of the very people who’re supposed to make laws are of the same mind. These are the same men and women who proclaim that what we have in this country is a government of laws and not of men, who will swear by the rule of law at every opportunity, and who will demand their day in court when accused of misusing pork barrel funds or of smuggling luxury cars through Northern Luzon free ports.

These are also among the very same people who’ve given Philippine governance and its proclaimed companion and abiding principle, the rule of law, a bad name through their misuse of pork barrel funds, the plunder of the public treasury, smuggling, and other high crimes. As a result they’ve made not only Duterte’s way acceptable — and even, in the eyes of many citizens, necessary — but have also kept the lure of authoritarian rule alive.

Twenty-eight years since the fall of the Marcos regime, the public opinion polls are still saying that martial law, or some other variant of authoritarian rule as a supposedly more efficient means of addressing the country’s problems, remains a preferred option among a significant number of Filipinos rather than the democracy the country’s rumored to have. Its attraction is based on disaffection with what passes for democratic rule in this country, which since EDSA 1986 has proven to be as inefficient as it is corrupt and corrupting.

Ferdinand Marcos’ one man rule, so the myth goes, after all dealt with the country’s problems efficiently, among its first acts being the execution of a drug lord. It’s that kind of summary, what-due-process decision-making, particularly when it comes to the drug problem, albeit in an officially declared democracy, that makes Duterte’s way so appealing, as his long reign in government (he’s been in charge in Davao City since 1988, that record interrupted only by a stint in Congress) attests.

But as appealing as his way may be, it’s also socially damaging and bound to eventually fail. It would enshrine violence as the sole determinant of enforcing civil behavior, breeding more violence in its wake, demanding more violence in response, and eventually leading to the kind of State failure in evidence in Somalia and Afghanistan where who can muster the most guns and the will to use them rule. The consequence would be a society at war with itself, a situation far worse than a mere civil war in which the protagonists at least claim to be for some principle.

Duterte, meanwhile, could indeed kill Bangayan, but he can’t kill the system that makes rice smuggling possible. Asked if smuggling could happen without the collusion of Customs and other government personnel, Duterte said “impossible!” — which means, and he knows it — that the problem can’t be solved by eliminating one individual, a few, several, or even dozens of individuals.

Addressing the smuggling and other problems of this country will require the dismantling and rebuilding of the systems that not only allow them, but even encourage their proliferation, growth and near-permanent character as features of Filipino life. Rodrigo’s way may work, but only temporarily — and not only at great cost in lives, but also to the very character and survival of Philippine society.

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Luis V. Teodoro is on Facebook and Twitter (@luisteodoro)
Published in Business World
February 6, 2014

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