Get real
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 6 October 2018


The BBC documentary aired last weekend, “Philippines: Democracy in Danger?” has a subliminal message for us Filipinos: “Don’t miss the forest for the trees,” meaning let’s not miss the big picture by focusing too much on individual details. Federalism, Charter change, national security, martial law, the Supreme Court decisions, the forthcoming elections, the guessing game on the President’s health—these issues occupy our minds so much, we may fail to appreciate an emerging pattern pointing to our democracy in danger.

Good point, and one we cannot disregard.  It has actually been brought up by various local personalities (including my husband, if you will permit me to add), but you know us: If it is said by a foreigner, it has more pizazz. Especially if the foreigner is the BBC, with its worldwide reputation for fairness, fearlessness and clarity.

To me, the only jarring note in the report was the reporter’s (Howard Johnson) interview with presidential spokesperson Harry Roque. I nearly jumped out of my skin, Reader, when I saw and heard Harry, with complete confidence, saying that President Duterte has “actually been exculpated from claims of mass murders by no less than UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston, who investigated the Davao Death Squads. It was clear that he (Duterte) was completely cleared of liability. At most there was administrative liability, but it was clear from the Alston Report that he (Duterte) was not behind the Davao Death Squads.”

I nearly jumped out of my skin, because I had read the Alston Report when it came out years ago, and my recollection was that Alston, rather than exculpating Mr. Duterte, had implicated him.

It became apparent, as the documentary proceeded, that Alston shared the same views. With typical British understatement, Johnson said that Roque’s view was an “interesting interpretation” of the Report.  He had written Alston, and the reply was quite to the point: “Paragraphs 39 to 43 clearly implicate Duterte in the killings perpetrated by the Davao Death Squads.”

What do those paragraphs say? I googled the Alston Report, and reread it. The paragraphs are under the title “IX. DAVAO: VIGILANTISM OR DEATH SQUAD?

In Paragraph 39, Alston makes a categorical statement: “One fact points very strongly to the officially-sanctioned character of these killings: No one involved covers his face.” He then illustrates: The men who warn mothers that their children may be the next to die are undisguised, the men who gun down or knife the children in the streets never cover their faces. Does that sound like an exculpation of Mr. Duterte?

In Paragraph 40, Alston quotes Davao Mayor Duterte as saying “the buck stops here,” “I accept no criminal liability,” and that it is his “full responsibility” that hundreds of murders committed on his watch remained unsolved; as to his statements that he would make Davao “dangerous” and “not a very safe place” for criminals, they were for public consumption and would not affect police conduct.

Then Alston states: “The mayor’s positioning is frankly untenable: He dominates the city so thoroughly as to stamp out whole genres of crime, yet he remains powerless in the face of hundreds of murders committed by men without masks in view of witnesses.” Does that exculpate Mr. Duterte?

Harry, no matter how many times you use “clear” or “cleared” in your BBC interview, there is nothing in the Alston report that clears your principal.  This seems to be proof positive that you can brazenly lie with a calm face. In fact, you just told

another blooper when you denied that President Duterte had gone to the hospital—he himself unmasked that lie.

Maybe you should consider following in Mocha Uson’s footsteps? You seem to have the same senatorial ambitions. Just saying.

Reader, the recommendations of Alston over 10 years ago regarding the Death Squad (Paragraph 68) are interesting, in light of our subsequent problems with extrajudicial killings. They include withdrawing the mayor’s power of supervision and control of PNP units within his discretion; abolishing laws and practices where barangay officials submit names for inclusion in law enforcement watch lists; and calling for an independent investigation to identify those directing the death squad’s “assets” and hit men.