WITH some three weeks more before the May 9 presidential elections, rivals of Rodrigo Duterte, front-runner in the surveys, have seized the unsolved murders in Davao City as the steamroller to help stop the surge of his popularity.

Duterte himself is also to blame as he has kept harping about his “success” in quelling crime by gunning suspects down. The Duterte brand, by his own making, is that of a city mayor who suppresses disorder with guns blazing.

Many Filipinos outside of Davao have lapped up his exaggerations and jokes about being a tough mayor who sows fear among criminals. In selling his bid for the presidency, the pitch has been for the rest of the country to follow Davao’s example.

Illegal, not doable

The problem, of course, is that vigilante justice, which is what the Davao experience is all about, is also criminal. That, plus the requirements of due process of law and the flaws of the justice machinery, would make Duterte’s model legally dubious and not doable.

Yet, despite the attack on his plan to rid the country of illegal drugs and other crimes in three-to-six months, Duterte’s numbers in the popularity polls have leaped. Apparently, he has tapped the vein of discontent among the populace.

In response, his rivals, notably Jojo Binay who has plunged to #3 in the surveys, have pounced on Duterte’s person, calling him a “berdugo” (executioner), vowing to go after him by having an independent commission investigate the Davao “death squad” and the mayor.

‘Berdugo’ vs. ‘kawatan’

That is, of course, if Binay would win. If Duterte would emerge the president, it could be Binay who’d be indicted. Last Wednesday, Sen. Koko Pimentel, president of Duterte’s party, PDP-Laban, said Binay would “in all likelihood be the first big fish to be sent to jail” with “the preponderance of evidence of corruption against him.”

The swapping of threats between Binay and Duterte might make voters think they’re limited to a choice between an executioner and a “kawatan” (thief). They are not. There are three others to pick from and they’re not grossly labeled.

But the probability of having a Binay or a Duterte in Malaca¤ang on June 30 persists.

Media response

A probe into the Davao killings under a Binay administration wouldn’t be the first. The earlier attempts though, by such agencies as Commission on Human Rights and Human Rights Watch, didn’t have the energy and resources of a president driven to make the death squad and its leader or sponsor “to answer to God and the law of our country.”

With such an inquiry, a collateral but relevant issue of concern would be how Davao’s newspapers and broadcast stations have dealt with the controversy since it erupted years ago.

Did Davao media reports tell the community the true nature of the serial deaths, whether they were lawful result of clashes with the police or the work of masked gunmen and whether a Davao Death Squad enjoyed protection if not support from Duterte? Did Davao media commentaries wage the cause of rule of law and condemn the inaction on the murders?

The Davao media might have under-reported and minimized the killings or, worse, shifted their attention to other problems and, maybe, by inattention condoned the human-rights and right-to-life crisis.

Voice of the press

Why should media behavior in Davao interest outsiders? The Duterte campaign in asking Filipinos to vote for him shows Davao city law enforcement as model for the country. “That’s how we are in Davao,” along the same line and with the same beam of pride as the Makati ad teaser, in effect tells the voters Duterte will do it too nationwide.

Other communities might not want to ape Davao’s methods in keeping its citizens safe.

And media in each of those localities outside Davao would have the obligation to help inhabitants make up their mind and guide them on what is good for public interest.

But is there a choice for the press, except to raise its voice to uphold the law even in quelling crime?

In the name of peace and order, a public official a few years ago tried to use “extreme and illegal” measures in Cebu City. He didn’t succeed, largely because the Cebu press articulated public outcry against it.

[publicandstandards@sunstar.com.ph or paseares@gmail.com]

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Can the interviewer bully a bully? Chris Matthews did, on Donald Trump

Slippery in interviews, Donald Trump answers questions with “a spray of non-sequitors and irrelevancies,” expecting the interviewer to move on. And with his nasty comments on reporters and talk-show hosts, Trump is often a really mean bully.

Not with Chris Matthews, MSNBC talk show host and author, known as “The Interrupter” in his program “Hardball with Chris Matthews.” He “jumps in, cuts people off, doggedly pursues his line of questioning, and refuses to allow the guest to filibuster.”

Trump last week fumbled and stumbled with Matthews probing and pushing: the GOP front-runner made impolitic comments on abortion, which he revised three times since the interview.