EDITORIAL | The bully and the cowards

By: InterAksyon

August 18, 2016 7:26 PM

The online news portal of TV5

Beyond the misogyny, the hypocrisy, and the plain boorishness of President Rodrigo Duterte in his attack on Senator Leila de Lima, Digong’s latest outburst was an assault on the Senate, on Congress, on media, on all checks and balances enshrined in the Philippine Constitution. All stakeholders in this republic should denounce it accordingly. We wait with bated breath for anyone in the Senate to defend with vigor not just one of their own, but their very institution and mandate.


The shameless assault on the person of De Lima signals one or all of the following:

– The President is so consumed by his war on drugs that he will not reconsider his “scorched earth” approach, concerns over human rights and due process notwithstanding.

– It’s payback time for de Lima, whose previous stints as chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights and then as Justice secretary had vexed him, particularly with her alleged obsession to link him to the murderous Davao Death Squad.

– Duterte will run anyone over who will dare call him out on the EJK-thingy.
What is also clear is that this President will walk all over any person or entity that will simply lie down for the honor. The Supreme Court, to its credit, had signaled its empathy with the war on drugs, but also where it will refuse to bow or cede power. We all have a job to do, as Duterte himself had put it, so good luck with yours, but let us do ours, said Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno.

Though she didn’t have to, De Lima stressed that a looming Senate inquiry into all the extrajudicial killings that has rebranded “More Fun Philippines” would be fair and impartial. Indeed, there is no greater expression of respect – as residents of gated communities in Paranaque and Alabang can tell you – as when, unlike everybody else, you are given advance heads-up of a coming investigation, so the people concerned can take showers, clean up their premises, hide their mess, dress their windows, etc.

And yet, for all the courtesy, De Lima still became but the saddest exhibit to illustrate a troubling hallmark of this administration: an instinct to shoot first and ask…no, no more questions. 

This is not the first time the President has publicly indicted people with “intelligence” reports that he has to quickly qualify have yet to really be vetted. Worse, some past bombshells were shot full of questions within 24 hours, like blind items in tabloids, basically useless save as fodder for trolls and cyber bullies.

One would think heads would roll for having the President mouth off on error-ridden reports. One would think – if reliability and accountability were part of the agenda. But time and again the objective seems to be not so much to report to the public, but to have them foaming at the mouths. It’s justice not pegged on prosecution, but on persecution. Not trials, but trials by publicity (or worse, gossip.)

De Lima was right not to dignify the crass innuendo given credence, life, and life-destroying power by no less than the Chief Executive of the Republic of the Philippines. Neither will we dignify it with any mention here.

For the record, however, this much is legitimate: for government to look into accusations – first made by the President – that the driver of the former Secretary of Justice was collecting bribes from drug lords in Muntinlupa. A most execrable crime, indeed – if true. And yet the Duterte administration has once again left the public scratching their heads, left to their own questions, starting, escalating, spiraling, going round in circles with:

“So bakit ayaw pa kasuhan?”
“Kung ganoon kalakas ang ebidensya, bakit malaya pa?”
“Alam na pala ng pulis nang matagal, bakit hindi pa naaresto dati?”
“Kaharap na, alam na, bakit hindi pa pinosasan?”
“Bakit nauna ang presscon?”

Questions, in other words, on due process. People are daily reminded not only of the zeal and sincerity of the administration to root out an evil, but also of what trouble them about law enforcers in the Philippines.

Even granting, as Duterte and PNP chief Gen. Ronald dela Rosa insist:

…that most of the unexplained deaths in the drugs war were not caused by state actors like policemen

…that some killings may be the handiwork of vigilantes

…that drug syndicates may be wiping each other out along with their respective networks of small-time dealers…

… still, the refusal to talk about due process and human rights is its own indictment.

On the extrajudicial killings that have made a tough government so sensitive, it is a thin line that separates passivity from complicity. De Lima is utterly, completely, unqualifiedly right to call for a Senate inquiry into these matters. Which is why the vicious attack on her person should be decried for what it is: a warning that the Chief Executive will brook no criticism of his war on illegal drugs. Not from the United Nations, western governments and NGOs, and most definitely not from the two other branches vested by the Constitution with the most important task of keeping the Republic at its fragile democratic balance at all times.

Following the presidential reminder – “I do my job, you do yours” – everyone who believes we remain a democracy should speak up. “Trabaho lang po.” Or as De Lima pleads: “I am not the enemy here.”

Every sector should support the Senate inquiry as surely as every statement on public policy nowadays should be prefaced with a prayer: “To be absolutely clear, before we say anything else, para lang po malinaw, sana po maintindihan… WE SUPPORT PRESIDENT DUTERTE’S WAR ON DRUGS AND CRIME!”

(Sign of the cross. Amen. Panginoon, kaawaan ninyo kami.)

All sectors and institutions should speak up on how this war that’s meant to save us all should not be allowed to deteriorate into one that will consume and eventually kill the very values upon which this society purports to build.
Duterte’s low blow left everyone stunned not by the content of the accusations but simply by the awesome power of the man who was speaking.

Understandably shaken, De Lima was left to wonder: “How does one defend oneself when the attacker is immune from suit and has all the backing of executive power to support him in his personal attack?”

Any right-thinking nation should be shocked. The senator added:
“This is no less than abuse and misuse of executive power.”

Who will speak truth to power? Media has been trying. The Church has spoken out. Students, the youth, have found their voices. The Supreme Court has drawn a line. It sure took long enough, but even the Left could no longer abide the impunity by which extrajudicial killings have become a daily part of life.

We would hope that there is enough courage and leadership in Congress to recognize and denounce what that was that flew past De Lima’s head: a shot across the bow.

So far though, nothing from Senate President Koko Pimentel, nor from Alan Peter Cayetano, the two rivals in the Upper Chamber who separately tied their political fortunes to Duterte. But nothing, too, from all other senators. The Liberal Party has issued a statement expressing support for De Lima, their partymate. But let us hear it from Franklin Drilon, right there on floor at the Senate, where the decimated LP chose to realign itself with the majority rather than be any meaningful minority.

De Lima said of Duterte’s attack: “I don’t think the Constitution ever contemplated such abuse of power on such scale, as it assumes every President to conduct himself in a manner befitting the office he holds.”

Neither did the Constitution contemplate that when checks and balances are spelled out and institutionalized, that those empowered to keep power in check and balanced wouldn’t lift a finger for the honor of that mandate, anyway. 

Talk about immoral.

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