Lawlessness in Davao City

Lawlessness in Davao City

Once known as the “Murder Capital” of the Philippines, Davao City once again topped the headlines when Mayor Sara Duterte – surrounded by armed police bodyguards — beat a sheriff while hundreds of horrified people watched.

Duterte was caught on video camera punching sheriff Abe Andres – an officer of the court – several times while he was serving a court demolition order to destroy the shanties of approximately 250 informal settlers – or squatters – in the Agdao district in the city.

Assault on sheriff
The video footage played on TV news showed Duterte gesturing to Andres with her hand for him to come closer. Unsuspecting, Andres came closer and, in lightning speed, Duterte punched him on the head at least four times with her right fist. Andres cowered and ran away. Duterte’s police bodyguards ran after him and dragged him back to Duterte. While two of her police bodyguards held Andres’ arms, Andres with a swollen left eye grimaced in pain – and fear — as Duterte grabbed his collar with her left hand and poised to strike him with her clenched right fist… click! That image was captured on camera for the whole world to see. The photo says it all: arrogance of power.

In an attempt to justify her beating of Andres, Duterte said that Andres ignored her “order” to wait for two hours before serving the writ of demolition.

Andres did not heed her “order” – she’s not his boss — and tried to proceed with serving the court’s writ of demolition. That’s when Duterte lost her temper – wham! And all hell broke lose.

Duterte claimed that she was only trying to avert violence and bloodshed that would have happened if the demolition order were not stopped. Indeed, the video of the scuffle between the riot police and the squatters showed that emotions ran high.

For several days after the incident, Andres was out of public sight. And when he failed to attend a meeting with the Supreme Court administrator in Manila, it led people to speculate that he went into hiding. The following day he appeared in public and denied that he was in hiding. However, he said that he was not going to file charges against Duterte.

In hindsight, couldn’t this sad episode been avoided if city and court officials were in communication during the time the demolition case was being heard before Judge Emmanuel Carpio, who happens to be related to Duterte’s husband, Maneses Carpio?

And don’t tell me that Duterte was not aware of the plight of 250 squatters within the city boundary. If she were not aware of her constituents’ problems, then she was remiss of her mayoral duties. And to resort to violence to deal with constituents’ problems is typical of the mindset of local government executives who see themselves above the law. Worst, they think they are the law!

Support for mayor
It did not come as a surprise that many local executives came out in support of Duterte, most notably Mayor Alfredo Lim of Manila who had earned the moniker “Dirty Harry” during his first mayoral stint in the 1990s. Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson – known for his “tough on crime” style when he was head of the Philippine National Police — also justified Sara’s action.

In reaction to the punching incident, Sara’s father, vice mayor Rodrigo Duterte who is now acting mayor since Sara took a five-day leave of absence, expressed his all-out support for his daughter, and congratulating her for a “good job” in punching Andres.

Last July 4, on his first day as acting mayor, the elder Duterte was caught flashing his middle finger on TV as he cursed the media critics of his daughter.

He said that if he were the mayor at the time of the incident, he would have punched Andres and kicked him as well. And, in a demonstration of arrogance — and raw power — he addressed Andres directly: “It would have been good for you if that was all you received from me [Expletive].” Makes one wonder what else he would have done more than just punch and kick Andres? That brings to the fore the kind of “law and order” that existed in Davao City when he was the mayor.

Culture of impunity
Rodrigo Duterte, who was mayor from 2001 until he was termed out in 2010, gained notoriety when a vigilante group known as the “Davao Death Squad” was believed to have been responsible for the murder of more than 1,000 citizens including children and young teens. Although he was never proven to be associated with the death squad – which was often referred to as “Duterte Death Squad” — he had made public statements that seem to encourage or condone those killings.

In February 2009, according to the Human Rights Watch, Duterte told reporters: “If you are doing an illegal activity in my city, if you are a criminal or part of a syndicate that preys on the innocent people of the city, for as long as I am the mayor, you are a legitimate target of assassination.”

The report, “You Can Die Any Time: Death Squad Killings in Mindanao,” details the “involvement of police and local government officials in targeted killings of alleged drug dealers and petty criminals, street children, and others, and describes the lack of any effort by the authorities to investigate the killings and bring those responsible to justice.”

The report further said, “The longtime mayor of Davao City, Rodrigo Duterte, has made numerous statements attempting to justify the killing of suspected criminals, believing that such killings have a deterrent effect on crime and have made the city a safer place. But according to statistics provided by the Philippines National Police, the number of annual crime incidents has increased some 219 percent in the last decade, while the city’s population rose only by 29 percent. An increasing number of death squad killings appear to have made crime rates worse in Davao.”

The administration of then-president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo ignored the “targeted killings” in Davao City. Not only did she ignore those extrajudicial killings, she appointed Duterte in 2003 as her consultant on “peace and order,” which seemingly indicated that she approved Duterte’s modus operandi of operating outside the law in fighting criminal elements.

Where do you draw the line?
Sara Duterte may have been be noble in her desire to alleviate the situation of the “informal settlers,” but was she right in resorting to violence to stop the court-ordered demolition? Do two wrongs make a right or three wrongs?

In a civilized society, which I presume we are, the rule of law should – nay, must! – prevail at all times. No one is above the law and every government official is mandated to enforce the law. But when public officials break the law and take the law into their own hands, then lawlessness would break out.

It happened many times before in other parts of the world. Indeed, it wasn’t too long ago in Somalia where lawlessness and poverty led to anarchy out of which warlords reign.

Are we getting there?