MY column, “Duterte’s undoing” (Sun.Star Cebu, Opinion Section, May 30, 2015), naturally didn’t sit well with supporters of Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte. As I said, there are people out there who are frustrated with the country’s criminal justice system and favor the taking of shortcuts against suspected criminals.

Here’s one email:

“I feel compelled to comment: comparing the bodies that former president Ferdinand Marcos left on the streets to those under Duterte is like comparing oranges with rotten apples.

“Those corpses under Marcos were mere opponents or those whose offense was criticizing the dictator and foolishly relying on freedom of speech. Those under Duterte were largely rotten apples--evil, corrupt, criminals, scums.

“I am an independent observer of this country since the early ‘80s. I think it is high time for someone like Duterte to clean the house efficiently and much more sternly and quickly using extreme measures.

“Yes, progress (in the fight against corruption) under the administration of Noynoy Aquino is a small step in the right direction. But at this rate, it will take 50 years before corruption would be rooted out in the country.”

I respect the views of those who think the Duterte method against criminality is better than the one prevailing now. I also have misgivings about the justice system the reason why I fought the government in my younger years in pursuit of what I believed then was a setup better than the status quo. But I found out later that the status quo was better.

The operation against deep penetration agents in the ‘80s exposed the weaknesses of the underground setup. That operation victimized many innocent people suspected of being government spies. Many were tortured during interrogation and forced to make a confession. Nobody argued in their defense. Those pronounced “guilty” were executed.

The same faulty methodology prevailed when armed city partisans (also called sparrow units) were formed in Davao and later in Cebu City. They were supposed to go against those with “blood debts to the people” yet even those with lesser crimes got killed. In Cebu, the “sparrow units” had to be disbanded eventually.

The vigilantism that Duterte “inspired” runs through a similar thread. Vigilantes were the judge, jury and executioner rolled in one. The problem is that errors in judgment were bound to be committed.

To say that the hundreds of people killed by the “death squad” are all criminals is to be untruthful. It would be good to review each of those executions and find out if each of the victims deserved their fate. The good and the not-so-bad got killed together with the really evil.

This is why I oppose the imposition of the death penalty. It’s not that I do not want those who commit heinous crimes to be executed; it’s just that I do not want the innocent to be killed.

Consider the case of Filipina Mary Jane Veloso, who was sentenced to death by firing squad in Indonesia allegedly for trafficking illegal drugs. Filipinos who campaigned to have her execution stayed believed she was innocent or at least was unaware that she was used as a drug mule.

Veloso was spared and her execution stayed by Indonesian President Joko Widodo. But what if Veloso was shot eventually? Wouldn’t that not have been an indictment of the death penalty that many of us want to impose in this country? Wouldn’t an innocent one have been victimized?

By extension, I would say that had Veloso been judged by vigilantes, she would have already been dead a few hours after her baggage was found to contain illegal drugs.