Duterte’s narco list, a death sentence

This does not change the fact that being added to Duterte’s narco list has become like a death sentence: seven of the 24 murdered mayors and vice-mayors had been implicated in the list before they were killed by unknown assailants.


SANTA ROSA, Laguna – The assassination of incumbent Los Baños, Laguna Mayor Caesar Perez is the latest in a consistent trend of extra-judicial killings against politicians and government officials under the Duterte administration.

On the evening of December 3, Perez was gunned down while walking towards the receiving area of the Los Baños municipal hall. He was shot twice in the back of the head and was rushed immediately to the hospital. He was declared dead around 9:25 p.m. after attempts to revive him.

Perez is the 24th local executive killed since Duterte took office in July 2016, showing a disturbing pattern of violence against local executives. In the Philippines, politically-motivated killings have become an “occupational hazard” of sorts as rival political clans often vie for power in local elections. In some cases, things turn violent; the infamous Ampatuan massacre, for instance, ultimately stemmed from a political spat between rival Mangugudatu and Ampatuan clans.

However, these killings take on a new form under the Duterte regime. Of the 24 officials killed since July 2016, eleven of them were accused or suspected of having links with the illegal narcotics trade.

Perez himself was accused by Duterte of being involved in the drug trade. On March 2019, Duterte added Perez, along with 45 others, to his “narco list” and insisted that they were involved in the trade. Perez had since made attempts to distance himself from the narco list, calling it a “collation … from intelligence reports of drug enforcement, police, and military.”

This does not change the fact that being added to Duterte’s narco list has become like a death sentence: seven of the 24 murdered mayors and vice-mayors had been implicated in the list before they were killed by unknown assailants.

Local officials in the barangay level have also been targets of the prevailing culture of violence. A report by VERA Files states that 85 former or current barangay officials have been killed from July 2016 to October 2020; 72 of them were reportedly involved in drugs.

Local members of the judiciary have also become targets of extra-judicial killings: 11 prosecutors and eight judges have been killed under the Duterte administration. In at least one case, the judge was killed inside their office.

Part of a bigger, bloodier, picture

These attacks on government officials, city prosecutors, and judges are part of a larger culture of violence perpetuated by the Duterte government. Duterte’s tough rhetoric on drugs and loose attitude on violence has resulted in over 31,200 deaths under his so-called “war on drugs.”

Defenders of the President would be quick to note that Duterte’s tough-talking rhetoric is nothing more than bravado. Malacañang has more than once dismissed Duterte’s remarks as attempts at humor.

Human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Karapatan, however, are not laughing. They have repeatedly noted and condemned the “near impunity” that police and other state actors enjoy under Duterte when it comes to drug-related violence. Duterte has naturally denied these accusations as baseless.

These groups counter that the basis is plain for all to see. In four years, Duterte has repeatedly ordered police and military to “shoot first, ask questions later,” while also categorically stating his lack of interest in human rights. In September 2016, he compared his war on drugs to the Nazi Holocaust, before adding that he would be “happy to slaughter [3 million drug addicts].”

The end result is an environment of impunity where not even government officials are safe against reprisal. The effects of this culture have become apparent: according to Human Rights Watch, as much as half of the drug-related violence from Oplan Tokhang comes courtesy of anti-drug ‘vigilantes’ supposedly unsanctioned by the government.

Police officers have also been implicated in Tokhang killings, with high-profile cases like the murder of Kian delos Santos establishing cops as suspects. Of the 85 barangay officials murdered in four years, 35 were killed by state agents.

There is also evidence that the state-perpetuated killings are systemic. According to the Free Legal Assistance Group, documents from the Philippine National Police [PNP] and the Department of Interior and Local Government also conditioned police operatives “not only to arrest suspects but to neutralize them,” citing the PNP’s Command Memorandum Circular No. 16-2016 as one example.

All of these point to growing senseless violence and very real consequences of Duterte’s acid tongue. The fact remains that four years into his presidency, Duterte has left a trail of blood and tears all over the country under the banner of “peace and order.”

This same trail of blood also presents hard questions for the Filipino people. Curtailing more rights in response to waves of violence is nothing new, and Duterte himself used similar excuses to enact policies such as placing Mindanao under Martial Law for two years, or signing Memorandum Order 32 and Executive Order 70. The collective question at the back of our heads should be, “What is Duterte planning to do with this?”

It is more than right to be skeptical at the current situation. Using crises to push anti-democratic policies is a classic staple of the Duterte administration, and with its recent push to justify the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 while trying to justify an increased budget for security and defense, it’s not too far-fetched that Duterte’s policy makers will try to capitalize on the opportunity.

The best thing we can do now, as citizens, is to remain vigilant against creeping tyranny. The last time a President tried to secure the nation at the expense of freedom resulted in Martial Law for almost a decade. (https://www.bulatlat.com)

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