Blood and ben­e­fits: Duterte’s for­mula

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

Ro­drigo Duterte has kept his word. “For­get the laws on hu­man rights,” he de­clared in May at his fi­nal pres­i­den­tial cam­paign rally in Manila. “If I make it to the pres­i­den­tial palace, I will do just as I did as mayor. You drug push­ers, hold-up men and do-noth­ings, you bet­ter go out. Be­cause, I’d kill you.” More than seven months af­ter win­ning the pres­i­dency, Duterte is rolling out on a na­tional scale the model of gov­ern­ment he honed over 22 years and seven terms as mayor of this city on the south­ern is­land of Min­danao. Just as in Davao, blood is now flow­ing in the cap­i­tal Manila and sur­round­ing ar­eas as the po­lice and vig­i­lantes, in­spired by the pres­i­dent, con­duct a wave of killings.

A Davao-based hu­man rights group, the Coali­tion Against Sum­mary Ex­e­cu­tion (CASE), has compiled fig­ures show­ing that death squads in the city were re­spon­si­ble for at least 1,400 doc­u­mented killings be­tween 1998 and 2015. Scaled up, Duterte’s war on drugs is now well un­der way across the na­tion, and the body count is set­ting records. Po­lice have killed more than 2,000 peo­ple since he was in­au­gu­rated on June 30, and are in­ves­ti­gat­ing about 3,000 more deaths. Hu­man rights mon­i­tors be­lieve many of th­ese were car­ried out by vig­i­lantes with of­fi­cial sanc­tion, a charge the gov­ern­ment de­nies.

In Davao, Duterte built a per­son­al­ity cult around his crack­down on crime. Part Mao, part Cas­tro, part gun-tot­ing Filipino war­lord, the avowedly so­cial­ist mayor ruled his city as a lethal enemy of wrong­do­ers and a cham­pion of the poor. His salute was a clenched fist - a sym­bol now em­bla­zoned on sou­venir mugs and other Duterte mem­o­ra­bilia.

But there is another in­gre­di­ent in Duterte’s ap­peal that makes him a more com­plex leader, and a po­ten­tially more po­tent one, than is ap­pre­ci­ated abroad: The peo­ple of Davao say he gets things done. Res­i­dents laud his han­dling of city ser­vices. Busi­nesses praise his pro-growth pol­icy. A top of­fi­cial at the Amer­i­can Cham­ber of Com­merce in the Philip­pines ap­plauds his team of eco­nomic ad­vis­ers.

Sa­muel R Matunog, a Davao lawyer, busi­ness­man and hu­man rights worker, strongly re­jects Duterte’s sup­port for vi­o­lence and killing. But he ac­knowl­edges there are el­e­ments of his ad­min­is­tra­tion wor­thy of sup­port. “There are so many things that he does that I like,” he says. “Most im­por­tant to him is the ba­sic wel­fare of work­ing peo­ple.” With the na­tional levers of power in his grasp, Duterte is try­ing to ap­ply to the Philip­pines, a na­tion of 101 mil­lion peo­ple, the same recipe of fear and pop­ulism that he em­ployed in his ef­forts to tame Davao, a city of 1.6 mil­lion.

‘A Big­ger Davao City’

To ad­vance the drug war, his po­lit­i­cal al­lies have in­tro­duced leg­is­la­tion to bring back the death penalty - and to lower the age at which peo­ple can be pros­e­cuted for crimes to just 9. Mean­while, he is promis­ing a raft of mea­sures cer­tain to please wage earn­ers and the poor - in­clud­ing free tu­ition at state uni­ver­si­ties and col­leges, and free ir­ri­ga­tion for rice farm­ers. He also wants to repli­cate fea­tures of the Cuban health sys­tem.

The task of man­ag­ing the more than $300 bil­lion na­tional econ­omy dwarfs any chal­lenge Duterte faced in Davao, to be sure. While his war on drugs is well ad­vanced, his promised eco­nomic re­forms have barely started. “He wants to make the Philip­pines a big­ger Davao City,” Je­sus Dureza, one of Duterte’s clos­est ad­vis­ers, said in an in­ter­view on the pres­i­dent’s plan to boost the econ­omy by elim­i­nat­ing crime and drugs. “But the work is much tougher as cor­rup­tion and crime are wellen­trenched in Manila, at the na­tional level.”

As pres­i­dent, Duterte is con­tin­u­ing his take-no-pris­on­ers ap­proach. In Davao, he shamed civil ser­vants on a weekly ra­dio and tele­vi­sion pro­gram. In Manila, he has pub­licly hu­mil­i­ated his most out­spo­ken critic, a sen­a­tor who led an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into ex­tra­ju­di­cial killings and now faces crim­i­nal charges. And he re­cently de­manded the im­me­di­ate res­ig­na­tion of the heads of the coun­try’s top en­ergy reg­u­la­tory body af­ter re­ports of cor­rup­tion at the agency.

In his crack­down on drugs and crime as mayor, most vic­tims were drug users, petty crim­i­nals and street chil­dren. Most were ei­ther shot or stabbed to death in vig­i­lante-style killings, CASE said. In a 2009 re­port, the in­ter­na­tional ad­vo­cacy group Hu­man Rights Watch (HRW) iden­ti­fied a con­sis­tent fail­ure by po­lice to se­ri­ously in­ves­ti­gate th­ese killings. Po­lice in Davao, helped by neigh­bor­hood lead­ers, drew up lists that were used by death squads to tar­get their vic­tims, HRW al­leged. The rights group also re­ported that act­ing and re­tired po­lice of­fi­cers worked as “han­dlers” for death-squad gun­men in Davao, giv­ing them names and pho­tos of tar­gets, an al­le­ga­tion de­nied by Davao po­lice.

Duterte de­nies play­ing any part in the ac­tiv­i­ties of the so­called death squads in Davao. The pres­i­dent has faced probes into the killings in Davao and since he took of­fice in July, and none has proven he was re­spon­si­ble, a spokesman for Duterte said in re­sponse to ques­tions from Reuters. The pres­i­dent’s crit­ics “keep on pick­ing on al­le­ga­tions of hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions”, he said. “If any­one is erod­ing democ­racy, it must be the ra­bid op­po­nents who up to now can­not ac­cept de­feat and re­spect the re­sults of elec­tions.”

Shock and Dis­ap­proval

But a sim­i­lar pat­tern of vi­o­lence is re-emerg­ing na­tion­ally. In Oc­to­ber, Reuters re­vealed the key role that neigh­bor­hood “cap­tains” across the na­tion are play­ing in the drugs war. Many of the vic­tims killed by law en­force­ment of­fi­cers or vig­i­lantes ap­peared on po­lice “watch lists” that th­ese low-level of­fi­cials are help­ing to com­pile. A later Reuters in­ves­ti­ga­tion amassed ev­i­dence that sug­gested of­fi­cers were sum­mar­ily gun­ning down drug sus­pects and per­form­ing per­func­tory crime-scene in­ves­ti­ga­tions and au­top­sies.

“When will th­ese killings stop?” said Con­gress­man Gary Ale­jano, a for­mer mil­i­tary of­fi­cer and strong critic of Duterte’s meth­ods. “The pur­pose of the war on drugs is to sti­fle op­po­si­tion and cas­trate dis­sent. It is work­ing.” A grow­ing cho­rus of shock and dis­ap­proval has in­cluded warn­ings from sen­a­tors that there are grounds for im­peach­ment over what Duterte’s crit­ics say are ex­tra­ju­di­cial killings. But the pres­i­dent is press­ing ahead.

Right now, an im­peach­ment mo­tion seems un­likely. Duterte’s sup­port­ers con­trol both houses of Congress, and his pop­u­lar­ity re­mains high. An opin­ion poll pub­lished by the So­cial Weather Sta­tions re­search agency in De­cem­ber showed 77 per­cent of Filipinos were sat­is­fied with Duterte’s per­for­mance. It was his prom­ise to spread his city’s anti-cor­rup­tion and law-and-or­der poli­cies across the coun­try, po­lit­i­cal an­a­lysts here say, that en­deared him to mil­lions of Filipino vot­ers. He tapped into dis­gust with the na­tion’s po­lit­i­cal elite and the fail­ure of suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments to tackle poverty and in­equal­ity de­spite years of ro­bust eco­nomic growth, they say.

The 71-year-old for­mer pros­e­cu­tor rev­els in re­mind­ing his coun­try­men that he is a man to be feared. As mayor, Duterte de­clared on Dec 16, he even shot three crim­i­nals him­self dur­ing a po­lice op­er­a­tion. “I said I killed about three of them,” he said. “I didn’t re­ally know how many bul­lets from my gun went through in­side their bod­ies.”

In Congress, his al­lies are de­ter­mined to push through the bill that would lower the age of crim­i­nal­ity from 15 to 9. The leg­is­la­tion is nec­es­sary, they say, be­cause young chil­dren are in­volved in the drug trade. It wouldn’t be the first time chil­dren have been caught in a Duterte crack­down. In Davao, CASE said it doc­u­mented 132 in­ci­dents of chil­dren aged 17 and younger who it says died in vig­i­lante-style killings be­tween 1998 and 2015.

Checks and Bal­ances

As pres­i­dent, Duterte has con­tin­ued to tar­get of­fi­cial cor­rup­tion. While at an eco­nomic sum­mit in Peru in Novem­ber, he is­sued an or­der: Launch an im­me­di­ate in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the En­ergy Reg­u­la­tory Com­mis­sion. He had just been briefed on the sui­cide of a top com­mis­sion of­fi­cial, who was al­legedly un­der pres­sure to au­tho­rize im­proper deals. On the spot, Duterte de­manded the whole­sale res­ig­na­tions of the com­mis­sion’s se­nior man­age­ment. “I am telling you, I am just a small town prov­ince boy, I re­ally don’t like cor­rup­tion,” Duterte told re­porters in Lima. If the com­mis­sion­ers refuse to quit, the pres­i­dent “will ask Congress to abol­ish their po­si­tions,” a Duterte spokesman told Reuters.

He has also brought his pop­ulist eco­nom­ics to the cap­i­tal. Congress has ap­proved a bud­get of 8.3 bil­lion pe­sos ($167 mil­lion) for 2017 to pro­vide free tu­ition at all state col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties. He sent his health min­is­ter to Cuba in Au­gust to study its na­tional health sys­tem. And in re­cent speeches, Duterte said he had re­leased 2 bil­lion pe­sos from the reg­u­la­tory agency that op­er­ates most of the coun­try’s casi­nos. This would be split evenly be­tween drug re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and sub­si­dies for poor fam­i­lies un­able to af­ford pre­scrip­tion drugs.

Duterte in­her­ited a strong econ­omy. To boost growth fur­ther he pledges to bol­ster in­fra­struc­ture spend­ing and lift caps on for­eign own­er­ship. He has also vowed to in­crease com­pe­ti­tion in mar­kets dom­i­nated by mo­nop­o­lies and duopolies, sig­nal­ing a will­ing­ness to take on the busi­ness elite. Still, there are signs it might be dif­fi­cult to im­pose his vi­sion on a far-flung na­tion where checks and bal­ances on ex­ec­u­tive power are well es­tab­lished.

The man­age­ment of the En­ergy Reg­u­la­tory Com­mis­sion is still in of­fice. They refuse to re­sign, in­stead call­ing for an im­par­tial in­quiry into the sui­cide. The com­mis­sion is a quasi-ju­di­cial body es­tab­lished by law, so leg­is­la­tion would be re­quired for Duterte to scrap it. Back home in Davao, bu­reau­crats rarely de­fied a mayor known as “the Pu­n­isher”. Duterte’s power re­mains grounded in this city, where his word vir­tu­ally be­came law. His daugh­ter, Sara Duterte-Car­pio, is now mayor. His son, Paolo, is vice-mayor.

Even af­ter mov­ing in to Mala­canang, the pres­i­den­tial palace in Manila, Duterte and his en­tourage fly to Davao ev­ery week. “We are now the Mala­canang of the south,” says Davao busi­ness­woman and Duterte sup­porter Belinda Laya-Torres. “He feels at home here.”

Duterte be­came mayor in 1988, two years af­ter the fall of Pres­i­dent Fer­di­nand Mar­cos. The coastal city was at the cen­ter of a com­mu­nist in­sur­gency that had erupted against the Mar­cos regime. New Peo­ple’s Army rebels were us­ing the city as a test­ing ground for ur­ban guer­rilla war­fare; as­sas­si­na­tions, bomb­ings and dis­ap­pear­ances were com­mon. In a vi­cious war of at­tri­tion, the rebels tar­geted po­lice, the mil­i­tary and lo­cal of­fi­cials, while the au­thor­i­ties hit back at sus­pected com­mu­nist sym­pa­thiz­ers.

Some lo­cals say when Duterte came to power, he proved to be more ef­fec­tive in the use of vi­o­lence than the rebels or crim­i­nals. In its 2009 re­port, Hu­man Rights Watch dis­cerned a pat­tern in the vig­i­lante-style killings dur­ing his rule. “The as­sailants usu­ally ar­rive in twos or threes on a mo­tor­cy­cle with­out a li­cense plate,” the mon­i­tor­ing group wrote. “They wear base­ball caps and but­toned shirts or jack­ets, ap­par­ently to con­ceal their weapons un­der­neath. They shoot or, in­creas­ingly, stab their vic­tim with­out warn­ quickly as they ar­rive, they ride off - but al­most al­ways be­fore the po­lice ap­pear.”

Along­side the crime crack­down, Duterte built sup­port with his man-of-the-peo­ple per­sona. He is per­ceived as frugal and plain-liv­ing. The home where he still lives when in Davao is an unas­sum­ing two-storey prop­erty be­hind a green metal gate. He eats at un­pre­ten­tious restau­rants and is fond of the strongsmelling fruit durian.

As mayor, he also slashed red tape. Ap­pli­ca­tions for most per­mits and ap­provals must be de­cided within three days, lo­cal of­fi­cials say. In the city tax of­fice, fans rat­tle in the brightly lit pub­lic ar­eas where many of the ser­vice win­dows are open through the lunch hour. The sched­ule is meant to min­i­mize wait­ing time. Duterte says he hates see­ing cit­i­zens queu­ing.

Rules and reg­u­la­tions were strictly en­forced. Fire­crack­ers, dan­ger­ous but very pop­u­lar in the Philip­pines, are out­lawed, a pol­icy Duterte prom­ises to en­force na­tion­wide next year. Smok­ing in pub­lic is banned. Jay­walk­ers face $4 fines and or­ders to per­form com­mu­nity ser­vice. Bars and restau­rants must stop serv­ing al­co­hol at 1 am. There is a 10 pm cur­few on un­ac­com­pa­nied mi­nors.

De­spite the strict­ness of th­ese re­stric­tions, Duterte is no prude. Pros­ti­tu­tion is tol­er­ated with reg­is­tered sex work­ers re­quired to un­dergo reg­u­lar health checks, ac­cord­ing to a city of­fi­cial. The au­thor­i­ties check to en­sure they are not work­ing un­der co­er­cion or threat. And the city holds a Christ­mas party for sex work­ers, the of­fi­cial said.

The mayor en­hanced his im­age with a weekly ra­dio-and-tele­vi­sion talk show, “Gikan sa Masa, Para sa Masa” - From the Masses, For the Masses. Here, Duterte would take com­plaints from res­i­dents and is­sue peremp­tory cor­rec­tive or­ders. It be­came a must for city of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing the lo­cal po­lice, to lis­ten and watch his Sun­day pro­gram: They would not want to miss his on-the-spot in­struc­tions, usu­ally de­liv­ered with curses and re­bukes.

Ev­ery­where in the city there is ev­i­dence of the per­son­al­ity cult he fos­tered. At one of the more pop­u­lar restau­rants, Ma­rina Tuna, which spe­cial­izes in the fish for which the city is known, a Duterte cut-out greets guests on the en­try stair. The mar­kets are full of Duterte mem­o­ra­bilia and T-shirts. With echoes of Maoist China, a na­tional “learn from Davao” move­ment is un­der way. Del­e­ga­tions of vis­i­tors from around the coun­try fly in to study the city’s blue­print for or­der, growth and de­vel­op­ment, lo­cal of­fi­cials say. Over­whelmed with up to 22 groups vis­it­ing a day, a US-style 911 emer­gency re­sponse cen­ter built by Duterte was forced to re­strict ac­cess, ac­cord­ing to op­er­a­tors at the cen­ter.

Poverty lev­els in the Davao re­gion, which in­cludes the city, are down, and in 2014 the re­gion grew 9.3 per­cent - a statis­tic Duterte of­ten cites when he boasts of his home­town. He usu­ally fol­lows this with a re­minder that it is safe to walk the streets at night. This se­cu­rity, he says, cre­ated the con­di­tions for in­vest­ment and growth.

The city hosts a thriv­ing busi­ness process out­sourc­ing in­dus­try pro­vid­ing call cen­ters, tele­mar­ket­ing and on­line lan­guage tu­tor­ing for lo­cal and for­eign com­pa­nies. Lo­cal out­sourc­ing-busi­ness own­ers give Duterte credit for pro­vid­ing the en­vi­ron­ment for growth. They say the city is safe for their mostly young em­ploy­ees to com­mute to work at all hours. “We need par­ents to be com­fort­able that young peo­ple can go out at 10 p.m. and come home early in the morn­ing,” says Michael Bian, chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of a grow­ing out­sourced ser­vice provider, Six Eleven Global Te­le­ser­vices. Davao busi­ness peo­ple and of­fi­cials also credit Duterte with hav­ing the con­fi­dence to del­e­gate to ex­perts. He has adopted the same ap­proach as pres­i­dent, busi­ness lead­ers say, ap­point­ing ex­pe­ri­enced eco­nomic man­agers. “He has sur­rounded him­self with a very good team. They are do­ers,” says Ebb Hinch­liffe, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Amer­i­can Cham­ber of Com­merce in the Philip­pines. “Thank God, he leaves them alone.”

Lo­cal busi­ness lead­ers and of­fi­cials ac­knowl­edge that the city of Davao still has a long way to go. Apart from a few gleam­ing modern malls, most of the com­mer­cial ar­eas and res­i­den­tial neigh­bor­hoods are full of ram­shackle build­ings packed along nar­row, bumpy roads. Tin shacks on stilts line fetid wa­ter­ways. Pub­lic transport is lim­ited and the drainage sys­tem is widely ac­knowl­edged to be in­ad­e­quate, ac­cord­ing to lo­cal busi­ness peo­ple and in­ter­na­tional de­vel­op­ment agen­cies. —Reuters

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