THE Senate committees on justice and public order concluded the first run (consisting of two days, or last Monday and Tuesday) of the investigation into the extrajudicial killings sparked by the intensified campaign by the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte against the illegal drugs trade in the country. There will be more hearings but for now let me come up with some observations.
It was enough for Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief Ronald de la Rosa to be himself. De la Rosa is nicknamed “Bato,” which can be translated as either “rock” or “stone,” although many prefer “rock.” He said the nickname came from the name of the barangay in Davao del Sur where he was born and from the moniker he earned when he took his Scout Ranger course (his body, he said, was “rock hard”). He can add there another reason: he is strong-willed (“hindi natitinag,” in Tagalog).
Sen. Leila de Lima, the committee chair, and the other senators grilled de la Rosa for two days and he never wavered. The analogy can't be a bamboo because he rarely swayed to where the winds of criticisms blew. He stood his ground like a rock. In this sense, the President entrusted his campaign against illegal drugs to the correct police officer, that is if he wanted a PNP chief that is unuending.
Actually, I can also say the same of de Lima: she did come in as advertised. She was not a Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago-clone in the hearings (or who can approximate Miriam's nature?). Despite the unrelenting offensive against her by the President and his political supporters, she was Justice secretary-like as chair, calm and focused on the topic. But she groped as presider in the early stages, losing control of the sequence in the senators' questioning in some instances.
I was interested more in Sen. Panfilo Lacson's stance especially because he is himself a former PNP chief. I could sense his effort to balance his praise for the achievements of the PNP in the fight against illegal drugs and his criticisms of the extrajudicial killings that surfaced in its wake. Even before the hearings, Lacson did the balancing act, at times full of praise of the PNP and at other times critical. What he was particularly critical of was the vigilante killings, not the killings done during legitimate police operations.
And Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano? The man is continuing his tailspin that began when he forced his way into becoming Duterte's running mate despite the latter’s preference for Ferdinand Marcos Jr. After his “high” in the Senate probe into the alleged irregularities committed by former vice president Jejomar Binay when he was Makati City mayor came the plunge under the Duterte administration. Actually, the zealousness with which he is defending Duterte’s every act would have been admirable if it was sharper.
Actually, there is nothing earth-shaking in the hearing so far. What we heard from the PNP officials led by de la Rosa was the same defense they have been uttering in media interviews. Some of the testimonies were interesting, like the one on the Antipolo police, but these were things we already suspected or heard in the grapevine. The only difference was that these were being articulated in a formal probe by the relatives of the victims themselves.
I agree with Senator Lacson that so far the fight against illegal drugs by the Duterte administration has a success rate unprecedented in government's anti-crime drives. If only extrajudicial killings were taken out of the equation.
(firstname.lastname@example.org/ twitter: @khanwens)