Since the beginning of his campaign for the presidency, Rodrigo Duterte has been accused of disregarding due process, especially with his endorsement of extrajudicial killings of suspected criminals by the so-called Davao death squad. His campaign promise of ending criminality and the drug menace within the first six months into his presidency stirred reactions of disbelief, on one hand, and fears that he would run roughshod on human rights on the other.
However, it is his show of political will that propelled him to the presidency by a people fed up with unfulfilled promises, lies, and alibis by the government and the lingering problems of poverty and social injustices, corruption, criminality, incompetent officials and inefficient, deteriorating basic services, worsening traffic and floods, among a host of problems.
He added fuel to his critics when he, as a president in waiting, called on the police forces and the people to kill drug pushers. But he declared in his inaugural speech that he is a firm believer of due process. His critics might not have believed him, but nevertheless expressed hope that he would abide by it.
Even before Duterte took over the reins of Malacañang, there was already a spike in extrajudicial killings of suspected drug pushers and addicts. This has caused alarm from various quarters. What about the rights to due process of those killed?
What if some police officials are carrying out these killings to cover their involvement in the drug trade? What if there were those who were mistakenly identified as drug pushers or addicts?
There were also numerous reports all over the country of suspected drug dealers and addicts surrendering to local government officials and promising to mend their ways. If this were true then this is a first in the history of the country.
The latest bombshell from President Duterte came when he called out three active and two retired police generals and accused them of involvement in the drug trade. Again this is a first.
His critics are accusing President Duterte of again violating the rights of the three accused active and two retired police generals, and of doing trial by publicity. President Duterte and top Philippine National Police officials (PNP) said they have evidences to back up their accusations. PNP Chief Ronald de la Rosa said the rights of the accused would be protected. But the PNP chief also said President Duterte may have more names in his list of police officials involved in the drug trade.
One thing is certain, by calling out police generals, active and retired, for their alleged involvement in the illegal drug trade, President Duterte has shown to the public that he is indeed serious in addressing the drug problem. And if it were true that there have been drug pushers and addicts who have surrendered voluntarily, then President Duterte may be making a dent in addressing the drug menace.
However, it is also clear that the practice of extrajudicial killings must stop. There could be no reparations for those who have been mistakenly accused if they are already dead.
The Duterte administration could continue demonstrating its political will by running after and prosecuting the big drug dealers and their protectors. Running after the three active and two retired police generals who are allegedly involved in the drug trade is a good start and demonstrates the Duterte administration’s political will and determination in addressing the drug menace. But President Duterte could have just relieved and filed cases against the five accused police generals instead of summarily judging them in public so as not to violate their rights.
Perhaps President Duterte thinks that by shaming the five accused, it would force the others to come clean on their alleged involvement and to change their ways. Perhaps it is also meant to generate public support for the campaign against illegal drugs and to show the courts that the government is serious in running after those involved in the illegal drug trade.
But the rights of individuals and peoples were not enshrined to hamper the government’s efforts at running after criminals and wrongdoers. These were meant to protect the people from abuse, especially by those with power and authority.