The Manila Times  

August 28, 2017

Time for Bolder Steps

By Francisco Tatad*


AFTER 90 days, our military forces have finally taken over the grand mosque in Marawi City and are now clearing all the adjacent buildings that the Maute extremists and their Islamic State-related confederates had occupied since May 23rd. The extremists did not make a last stand, but simply pulled out before our troops arrived. This was the good news. The not so good news is that a number of hostages, including a Catholic priest, remain unaccounted for. This could mean that the extremists may have simply relocated to another base, from where to strike again as soon as they have regained their strength.

Whatever it is, the end of the Marawi siege does not mean the end of the problem the Mautes created by linking up to the Islamic State and declaring the establishment of an Eastern Province of the Islamic Caliphate in Mindanao. This remains a continuing threat. But the end of the siege months before the expiration of Proclamation 216, which declares martial law and suspends the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in the whole of Mindanao until December 31st, allows President Rodrigo Duterte to respond to the humungous issues confronting his government outside Marawi with greater confidence and chance of success.

Only one thing is needed: he must rethink his stand on the issues, and correct his mistakes. There is abundant room for it.

Drug Killings and Corruption

Consider two major problems. The extra-judicial killings in the brutal war on drugs, which have killed thousands of poor and powerless suspects without due process or documentation, but have not touched the big drug lords and their political patrons; and the massive government corruption exemplified by the corruption in the Bureau of Customs, recently exposed by the illegal shipment of drugs from China through the BoC’s “express lane” under the protection of unnamed and untouchable political patrons.

Public concern on these issues has peaked, following the murder of 81 drug suspects in Manila and Bulacan in just three days, including the 17-year-old Grade 12 student, Kian Loyd de los Santos, who was buried on Saturday, mourned by thousands of angry protesters, and the earlier discovery of a P6.4 billion shipment of shabu (metamphetamine hydrochloride) from Xiamen, which had gone through the Customs’ “green lane” like a government-to-government shipment, and has since provoked a lot of finger-pointing.

Kian’s murder threatens DU30 with a wave of street protests which may not go away even after his burial and the filing of criminal charges against his killers. Four policemen, who were directly involved, have been charged with murder and torture, but certain legal and political circles tend to believe the culpability goes higher than those who shot Kian twice in the head and once in the back, while kneeling and begging them to let him go because he had to prepare for his class exams.

Principals by Inducement?

These circles believe DU30 and PNP Director General Chief Ronald (“Bato”) de la Rosa are primarily “indictable,” the President for having ordered the police to “kill all” suspected drug dealers, and “Bato” for having given the specific order to the police regional commanders, in their last command conference at Camp Crame, to kill at least 32 per day, for a bounty of P20,000 per kill. Under our penal code, they are culpable, the lawyers believe, as “principals by inducement.”

DU30 cannot be charged in court with any criminal offense until he is first impeached and convicted upon impeachment. And because of his nearly absolute control of the House of Representatives, which has the exclusive power to initiate all cases of impeachment, he cannot be impeached either, no matter how culpable. But Bato is not an impeachable official and does not have the same immunity from suit as the President. Therefore, some interested parties may wish to proceed against him.


Can DU30 afford to see “Bato” prosecuted as a “principal by inducement” in Kian’s torture and murder, and in the death of so many others? That may be asking too much. But can DU30 at least order an end to the police killings and a complete review and documentation of all the police and vigilante killings since July 1, 2016?

Can he afford to remind DU30 himself and the police that the latter’s role as law enforcers is to preserve law and order at all times; that he cannot use the police as his “private army,” as the online statement of the Patriotic and Democratic Movement has charged, nor can he unleash them upon their prey like wild beasts in the jungle?

Their legitimate and lawful duty is to prevent crime, collect evidence against criminals, arrest them and bring them to justice for their crimes, but never to execute them like vermin on mere suspicion of any crime, or on false charges that they had tried to shoot it out with the arresting officers. This is the exact opposite of the mission of the military, which is to engage the armed enemy, and to “search and destroy.” And this is what DU30 should be able to remind himself of.

It would be a giant step if he could assure the nation and the world that DU30 is willing to begin again, rather than continue a failed policy that has turned the country into a narco-state and a killer as well. If he can do this, then he could still rewrite his human rights record, and have his fiercest human rights critics, both domestic and international, eating out of his hands.

Neither Easy nor Impossible

This cannot be a piece of cake. But neither is it impossible. First, we begin by doing what is necessary, says a great saint, then we do what is possible, and eventually we find ourselves doing what previously seemed impossible.

DU30 showed acute political sense by ordering the prosecution of the policemen involved in the murder. This is in sharp contrast to his treatment of the policemen involved in the November 5, 2016 killing of Mayor Rolando Espinosa of Albuera, Leyte, inside his detention cell at the Leyte sub-provincial jail in Baybay City at 4 o’clock in the morning, and of those involved in the July 30, 2017 pre-dawn massacre of Ozamiz City Mayor Reynaldo Parojinog Sr., his wife and 13 other family members and friends inside their homes.

In the Baybay killing, which the National Bureau of Investigation had described as a “rubout,” DU30 ordered the charges of murder against the policemen downgraded to homicide, and the leader of the team, Supt. Marvin Marcos, is now threatened with a promotion to the next higher rank. In Ozamiz, the policemen were commended for a job well done.

In Kian’s killing, DU30 surprisingly shot down efforts by the victim’s assailants to manufacture evidence against Kian. He also made no effort to bar the protest marches or the airing of the video showing how Kian was killed.

The Effect of Videos

This seems a calculated risk, given how such video images could fuel public indignation against him and the police. During the Vietnam war, it took a single photo of a police execution to change the tide of world public opinion against the US government and its allies. I refer to the story of South Vietnam’s Police General Nguyen Ngoc Loan.

On February 1, 1968, at the height of the Tet Offensive, Loan used his .38 caliber Special Smith and Wesson “Bodyguard” revolver to execute, in front of an NBC TV cameraman and an Associated Press news photographer, a Vietcong prisoner in handcuffs, who had earlier cut the throats of a South Vietnamese military officer, his wife, six children and an 80-year-old grandmother. The AP photo was broadcast worldwide, won the 1969 Pulitzer Prize for News Photography for photographer Eddie Adams. In no time at all, it galvanized the anti-war movement worldwide.


After the war ended in 1975, Loan moved to the US and ran a pizza shop in the Washington, D. C. suburb of Burke, Virginia, where he died of cancer in 1998. Upon his death, Adams, regretting that his Pulitzer Prize-winning picture did not tell everything about Loan or his victim, who turned out to have committed so many war crimes before his execution in Loan’s hands, eulogized the man as a “hero.” But the US and South Vietnam had long lost the war, and it was too late to correct any false impressions created by his prize-winning photograph.

Bolder Steps Needed

This tells us not to underestimate the possible long-term effects on the public mind of the video on Kian’s killing. But DU30 is apparently not bothered, and that’s something one must credit him for. Yet having taken the first step, he should have the courage to proceed now with bolder steps. He should order an end to all the killings, and while seeking to check drug-dealing in the slums and the ghettos, he should give greater emphasis to the flow of drugs from China, Sinaloa, the Golden Triangle and other sources, and the hitherto criminal activities of the big drug lords and their political patrons.

On corruption, which is intertwined with the narco trade, ending it is conceivably harder and more complicated than ending extra-judicial killings. First, the corrupt mind begins by declaring that corruption is limited to stealing money from the public till. By this definition, the distinction between good and bad, right and wrong, moral and immoral is abolished. Fornication, adultery, pornography, various forms of sexual depravity no longer have anything to do with corruption. Treating the public treasury as a private reserve just because one is in power is no longer corruption. Occupying an office one is not qualified for is no longer corruption.

This is a fundamental issue DU30 and his men must restudy and rethink. Under DU30, the entire government, not just the BoC, may have become more corrupt than ever before, and he may need a Diogenes with his lighted lamp to look for an honest man to help him set things right. But in such a situation, an honest man may have become the most dangerous threat to everybody else. In such a situation, DU30 will have to be the first one to declare that it is not enough for the President’s close-in advisers to say that his son is not involved in any wrongdoing at the piers for the nation to conclude that, indeed, he isn’t.

*Francisco “Kit” Sarmiento Tatad is Filipino journalist and politician who was public information minister under President Ferdinant Marcos and a senator from 1992 to 2001.