Maglana: December 10 conversations

FOR two years now, the group Katilingbanong Pagtambayayong or Katambayayong has been organizing what it calls a Conversation on a Culture of Life and Dignity in line with the annual commemoration of December 10 as Human Rights Day.

I have had the privilege of stimulating both conversations with some inputs. Analyzing the discussions in the two events, itis tempting to invoke the adage “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Concern over extrajudicial killings (EJKs) particularly in the anti-illegal drugs campaign was a running thread in the two activities.

Philippine National Police (PNP) reports indicated that2,041 drug suspects were killed by police under the "Project Double Barrel” from July 1 to December 6, 2016. By late September 2017, the number of deaths in PNP anti-drug operations had risen to 3,906. There were another 2,290 who died because of drug-related motives, mostly by unidentified assailants for the same period. These would bring drug-related deaths to a little over 6,000 by police reckoning.

The PNP also acknowledged that homicide cases from July 2016 to September 2017 had grown to 6,129. How many of these homicide cases were actually drug-related is up for questioning. As early as November 30,2016, the PNP reported that 3,841 drug suspects had been "murdered outside police operations” but the figure went down to 2,290 deaths per PNP 2017 reports.

If it were claimed that the decline is due to the outcomes of official investigations, it is instructive to look at other aspects of government performance in the anti-illegal drugs drive. As of September 2017, a mere ten inquest reports came out of the 3,800 deaths resulting from police operations and are supposedly being investigated by the PNP. Only 398 drug-related deaths of 6,129 homicide cases were resolved by police from July 2016 to middle of September 2017.A minuscule 71 drug-related cases got prosecuted by the Department of Justice as of August 2017, of which only 19 reached the courts. It can be said that these are symptomatic of the inefficient and frustrating nature of the country’s justice system. But the same observation cannot be used to justify EJKs.

A particularly troubling point in the December 2017 Conversation is the still unresolved smuggling of illegal drugs worth PhP6.4 B, the alleged connections to Vice-Mayor Paulo Duterte of Davao City, and the purported existence of a Davao Group that facilitated the transactions.

In the December 2016 conversation, inconsistencies in the statements of President Rodrigo Duterte about martial law were noted. He had alluded to declaring martial law and suspending the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus on November 15, 2016 in the context of the Maute and lawlessness. However, by December 1 of the same year, he referred to martial law as “kalokohan ‘yan,” rhetorically asking, “nag-martial law ngatayo noon, anongnangyari? Gumaling ba ang buhay natin? Hanggang ngayon wala."

By the December 9, 2017 Conversation, not only had Martial Law been declared on May 23 over Mindanao through Proclamation 216 because of the terroristic activities of the Maute and the Abu Sayyaf Group, but it also got extended past the allowed 60 days to end of December 2017. Talk was rife that a second extension, this time a full year, was in the offing. A mere four days later, the supermajority in Congress approved extending Martial Law in Mindanao until December 31, 2018 with nominal deliberations.

During the 2016 Conversation, reference was made to the historic election of Duterte as the 16thPresident of the Republic—the first from Mindanao, he who lambasted before an international audience the United States Army for the 1906 Bud Dajo massacre—and what that portends for the long record of injustices inflicted on Mindanao and its peoples.

This year’s Conversation noted the assessment of US President Donald Trump who said, after having met President Duterte during the 2017 ASEAN Summit and been serenaded by him, “(no)w we have a very, very strong relationship with the Philippines, which is really important. [It is] less so for trade, in this case, than for military purposes. It is a strategic location – the most strategic location. If you look at it, it's called the most prime piece of real estate from a military standpoint."

The above observation was especially distressing because December 10 is also the anniversary of the signing of the 1898 Treaty of Paris that ended the Spanish-American War, ceded Spanish colonies to the US, and annexed Mindanao, hitherto mainly unconquered by Spanish colonialism, to the rest of the Philippines.

Moreover, December 10 is the death anniversary of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, remembered for his long reign of terror, but also as an example of how justice eventually catches up with violent and corrupt authoritarians.

Pinochet comes to mind because of our own continuing struggles against unchecked impunity and historical revisionism. It seems the ones who dramatically benefited from changes in 2016 and 2017 were the Marcoses and Arroyos, prime examples of abusive oligarchs who were supposed to have been held to account by the anti-oligarchy promise of the Duterte election campaign but are now fully back in power.

Wait, did I say the more things change, the more they stay the same?


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