Posts Tagged ‘Davao’

[My third article in the Catalyst column]

One of the interesting things that came out of the Duterte mauling episode was Vice-Mayor Rodrigo Duterte’s allusion to a feudal set-up obtaining here in the Philippines. He was referring to the patronage culture and system abounding in almost all places in the country. The political component of this system lies in the politician-leader protection of his constituency in return for their votes and loyalty.

It is within this framework that he (and many others) justified the mauling by his daughter, Davao Mayor Sara Duterte, of the court sheriff who, in turn, was implementing a court order for the informal settlers to vacate a private property. The poor sheriff did not have a chance for defying the Davao mayor when he refused her request for a two-hour reprieve.

The matter of the mauling incident has been discussed exhaustively, and many positions, pro and con, have already been taken. It is now in the lap of the national government—the president, DILG, and the CHR—and we expect results soon.

In the meantime, a massive campaign—including expensive media ads, cyberspace offensives, and rallies—in support of the beleaguered Mayor was launched. Some allied media persons even rationalized the mauling, mostly by citing the “defense of the poor” or the “peace and order” arguments.

A running thread that captured the imagination of the public revolved on the use of power—irrespective of due process and the rule of law—to defend the constituency. The strongmen—in this case the Dutertes—won sympathies by championing the cause of the poor whose homes are about to be demolished, a la Robinhood. Of course, the fact that the city government is involved in the demolition—even providing the police to control the crowd—has been glossed over. The quarrel with the sheriff was on the matter of the latter’s haste and disorderly conduct of the demolition. The subtext is that he should have recognized and conceded to the authority of the Mayor.

Mayor Duterte has not yet apologized to her victim. Her vice-mayor father and councilor brother advised her not to do so. The one who strangely apologized was the mauled sheriff. Even the judge who ordered the demolition blamed the sheriff.

All of the actors have exhibited the behaviour consistent with the “feudal” set-up that Vice-Mayor Duterte spoke of. The lords of the castle have spoken, and the words defined the reality.

The “feudal” set-up is none other than the traditional politics taken to its extreme logical, and ultimately, undemocratic end.

It may not seem similar to the “guns, goons and gold” routine but the substantive handling of power is the same. In the Davao scenario, the identification of the people with the castle lord is strong, particularly because of the economic and security benefits provided by the latter. The Robinhood, champion of the underdog, and “knight in shining armor” images have always resonated and have been a strong cultural influence on the political choices of the masses.

What is disturbing in the Davao scenario is the unbounded expression of power and its personalization. The message that comes across is that the Dutertes are power personified and that they are untouchable by law. It is interesting how the national government will respond, since we have a unified republican state in the Philippines and power is concentrated at the national level.

It is also interesting how this will impact our fragile democracy, with its broken institutions and weak governance. The Dutertes, despite their formal support to Lakas-Kampi candidate Gilbert Teodoro, have admitted their secret support to the present president, Noynoy Aquino. They enjoy widespread support in Davao City, including the far Left groups normally critical of the current state.

Will the Aquino government apply the full force of the law in the mauling case? Or only a light tap of the wrist will do?

Events have conspired in this case to make the handling of the Dutertes a test case of the Aquino government’s human rights policy, its vow to dismantle warlordism and warlord armies, and its “matuwid na daan.

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I am amazed that  some friends and colleagues in the NGO community and even in the human rights community can rationalize and even defend the arrogant acts of Davao local czar  Davao City Vice Mayor Rodrigo Duterte  and his children, Mayor Sara Duterte and Councilor Paul Duterte in relation to the incident of the mauling of a court sheriff. They should reexamine their stand and separate the acts from the other presumed good deeds of the dynastic family.

Mauling is mauling in any language. That it was done by a state official against an unarmed citizen (who happened to be another state official (!)) is enough reason to condemn the act as a human rights violation. It even merits possible criminal and administrative charges. The  good mayor is still unrepentant, egged on by dirty-finger-pointing father and brother.

Citing the demolition being carried out by the court sheriff (incidentally, assisted by the mayor and the Davao police) is beside the point. This has its own issues which may well place the court in a controversial position. However, the issue at hand is: Is it correct or wrong for Mayor Sara Duterte to assault and beat up  the court sheriff and otherwise defy the court authority?

The obvious answer is no. It is in this light that she is being investigated. The reaction of her father and brother–while maybe understandable because of family ties–only strengthened the impression of an arrogant Duterte ruling family in Davao.

The issue that is naturally linked to what happened are the human rights abuses in Davao City that happened and are still happening under the family’s watch. The hundreds of extrajudicial killings by the infamous “Davao Death Squad” are not only tolerated but even defended by the elder Duterte. This has already created an atmosphere of white terror in Davao City, particularly in the poorer quarters.

By and large, many Davaoeños supported Duterte on this because of the illusory “peace and order” that white terror brings with it. They would also credit this “peace and order” as bringing the economic boom of the city.

The “peace and order” is illusory precisely because the DDS vigilantism is itself a violation of the peace and order, the drug trade and other criminal activities still persist, rebel activities continue, and rule of law has been, to a certain extent, replaced by the rule of the strongman.

Economic development and peace and order had always been the catchphrases of the Marcos dictatorship. It is not a wonder that during the early years of martial rule, many, if not the majority, accepted the curtailment of their freedoms in exchange for the “peace and order” and “economic development” promised and actually delivered by Marcos. They would accept the horrendous violations of human rights–the extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, torture, arbitrary arrests, curfews, zonings, forced evacuations, etc.–because of the illusions of economic development and peace and order.

We know the eventual results and legacy of the Marcos dictatorship–economic bankruptcy, continuing rebellion, and warlordism. It effectively set back the country’s development by a few decades.

Of course, it can be argued that Duterte’s Davao is far from the martial rule of Marcos. However, from my point 0f view, the only difference is that we have now a democratic Philippine state and government that can curtail Duterte’s power and bring the rule of law to Davao. A responsibility that, sadly I think, some of my friend and colleagues in the NGO and human rights community are already abdicating.

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The Davao demolition involving Mayor Sara Duterte needs to be seen within the context of the court case (if the judgment to vacate the private lot is final and executory), the observance of proper legal procedures and of the Urban Development and Housing Act (UDHA), and of the human rights of the informal settlers concerned. If there are violations here, these should have been threshed out before the demolition was carried out.

Barring any new fact, the demolition was evidently approved by Mayor Duterte when she allowed the city police to aid the sheriff, provided security to demolition personnel, and otherwise conducted a dialogue and reached an agreement for a two-hour reprieve. If there are violations in the demolition, Mayor Duterte is as much liable as the court and its sheriff.

However, the demolition is not the issue at hand. The issue against Mayor Duterte consists of mauling a fellow person in authority and preventing him from doing his duty. In human rights terms, she is is being accused of abuse of her authority.

Her immediate reaction of boxing the court sheriff–at least insofar as we can discern from the videos–can be understood within the context of the demolition which coincided with ongoing flood crisis. If true, her request for a two-hour reprieve is reasonable and can easily be agreed to by the sheriff–to which in fact he agreed to. However, when the period was up, the sheriff did not wait anymore for the mayor and proceeded with the demolition. The demolition was resisted by the informal settlers and there was a scuffle.

At that point, Mayor Duterte arrived and, evidently incensed, proceeded to berate and maul the sheriff. Not content with this, she had her bodyguards chase the sheriff, handcuff him, and also maul him. Her defenders would later point to the 2-hour agreement, the sheriff’s decision not to consult with the mayor anymore,  and the consequent breakdown in peace and order as justifications for mauling.

Mayor Sara Duterte’s acts constitute a human rights violation and provide a basis for filing an administrative case and even a criminal case against her. Hers was not a case of defending the poor and their human rights but rather of an abusive public official who thinks she is the law in Davao City. Her defenders among the Davaoeños and elsewhere should reflect on their misplaced acclamation.

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