Impunity scope widens; peace talks imperilled

Regular readers of the Philippine STAR have surely taken note of this paper’s series of editorials this week (the first week of President Duterte’s third year in office) dwelling on impunity and the rising cycle of violence in the country. Let’s review the key points raised by two of the editorials.

On July 2 the editorial, titled “Stopping impunity,” said:

“The poor solution rate for all murders and homicides in this country, with thousands perpetrated in the past two years alone, has bred the impunity that guaranteed more killings…. Journalists are not the only targets. Left-leaning activists, legal professionals and, recently, even priests have been shot dead, mostly by gunmen on motorcycles. With an election year approaching, deadly violence is expected to escalate as politicians, believing they can get away with any crime, use murder as the ultimate weapon for permanently eliminating rivals…

“This should warrant the urgent attention of an administration that professes to give priority to fighting crime. As long as people believe they can get away with breaking the law, impunity will reign.”

On July 5, a follow-up editorial, titled “Cycle of violence,” lamented:

“Mayors, priests, and long before them, journalists, activists and legal professionals – no one is safe in this country, and no one is brought to justice. The assassinations are becoming more sophisticated. This cycle of violence has to stop.”

Since 2011, I have written about impunity in relation with the continuing extrajudicial killings, “disappearances” and other human rights violations in the state counterinsurgency campaigns under every administration. Today impunity has extended to the killings the editorials demand to be stopped.

Two of my fellow PhilSTAR columnists have weighed in on this issue, each with his own perspective.

Jarius Bondoc, on July 4, called attention to the Philippine National Police report that 22,983 killings – 33 a day – occurred from July 1, 2016 to May 21, 2018, most of them drug-related. These, he pointed out, were apart from the 4,279 drug suspects slain for allegedly firing back in police raids and buy-bust operations.

While Jarius also cited the PNP report that 70 percent of the 16,000 homicide cases during the same period have been solved, with 10,000 suspects charged and 6,000 of them undergoing trial (a claim that has to be verified), he warned that the killing rate might be “going the way of Mexico.” In 2017 alone, he wrote, 25,340 persons were slain in Mexico’s drug war, and the number for this year may exceed 30,000. “Learn from Mexico’s soaring murder rate,” was his column piece title.

For his part, Dick Pascual, on July 5, raised the question whether “the climate of fear sown by the spate of killing and harassment of those perceived to be standing in the way” could be part of a “conditioning to weaken people’s resistance to a looming power grab.” He cited specifically that already 10 mayors and four vice mayors have been killed during the Duterte regime.

Whereas Dick delved more on the a-building authoritarian/tyrannical rule than on the “war on drugs” that Jarius is concerned about, both aspects of this issue deserve close monitoring.

I will just add to the data on Mexico’s drug war that Jarius cited. The anti-drug crackdown waged in Mexico over 11 years mainly targeted the drug cartels – unlike Duterte’s focus on killing drug users and peddlers, who were mostly the poor in overcrowded urban hovels. But Mexico’s drug cartels were also linked with all sorts of criminal gangs.

The crackdown began in 2006, when President Felipe Calderon (2006-2012) sent thousands of soldiers into the streets, aided by helicopter gunships donated by the United States (which Jarius mentioned) to “stamp out” illegal drug activities.

Costing $54 billion in Mexican government funding plus a $1.5-billion US donation, the Calderon crackdown resulted in more than 200,000 persons killed and 30,000 others missing. Yet the campaign failed to improve police work, to implement the rule of law and stop human rights abuses. Under President Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018), 63,000 were reported murdered in his first three years in office (50 percent more than in Calderon’s first three years).

A year before last week’s presidential election, in which leftist former Mexico City Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador won 53 percent of the votes, the killings had reached the “highest level of violence,” according to the Guardian. That fact, plus large-scale corruption in the series of governments led by the Institutional Revolutionary Party over 70 years, led voters to reject the status quo.

Worth noting was what Lopez Obrador declared after his electoral victory. Spurning his predecessors’ “failed strategy” of using armed force in the anti-drug and crime campaign, he said:

“More than the use of force, we will deal with the causes from which insecurity and violence originate. I am convinced that the most effective and humane way of fighting these ills involves combatting inequality and poverty.” He added that “peace and security are the fruits of justice.”

One can only wish that President Duterte, who had claimed to be a “leftist” and “socialist” before becoming president, would take the cue from this Mexican leader regarded as a “pragmatic Leftist” on how to deal with the problems of illegal drugs, crime, and corruption.

Now, an update on the precarious state of the GRP-NDFP peace talks, which Duterte has suspended for three months purportedly to allow for public consultations and for him to review all previous agreements.

Per a July 5 statement by presidential peace adviser Jesus Dureza, President Duterte has set four preconditions for continuing the peace negotiations – firmed up during a military-police command conference he called at Malacañang on July 4. These are: 1) the negotiations should be held in the Philippines; 2) no coalition government; 3) stop the collection of revolutionary tax; and 4) a ceasefire during which the NPA members should be encamped in designated areas.

Not only do these one-sided preconditions violate previously signed bilateral accords. They also contravene the precept that has governed the GRP panel’s stand and conduct in the peace talks since 1992. Set in President Fidel V. Ramos’ Executive Order 125 and adopted by Gloria M. Arroyo’s Executive Order 3, it states: “A comprehensive peace process seeks a principled and peaceful resolution to the internal armed conflict, with neither blame nor surrender, but with dignity for all concerned.”

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Published in Philippine Star
July 7, 2018

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