Will Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte’s brand of ‘justice’ work on a national scale?

Former Commission on Human Rights (CHR) chairperson Loretta Ann Rosales thinks Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, a Presidential candidate for the 2016 Presidential elections, has the makings of a dictator. She is basing her opinion on Duterte’s “alleged vigilante-style approach against suspected criminals in his city”. Here are some of the things she had to say about Duterte “the punisher”:

“He hates criminals. Suspected criminals have no space for him. He guns them down if he feels like it,” she told ABS-CBN News.

“The moment you take the law in your hands and you think you can get away with it, then you become part of the problem, and that has been the way of all authoritarian rulers.”

“These people who say we need a Duterte, they don’t think of the law. They don’t realize that if you don’t respect the law, it would affect also you and your family,” she said.

“As mayor, I don’t understand it, but he felt that he had the authority to gloss over the rule of law, to gloss over due process, and to let people know that he could get away with murder, and that’s what makes it dangerous.”

Rodrigo Duterte: He'll need more than loud threats to get things done as president.
Rodrigo Duterte: He’ll need more than loud threats to get things done as president.
Who doesn’t hate criminals? For Duterte’s supporters, Rosales comes across like she is siding with the criminals. In fact, there are people who think Rosales has lost her moral high ground considering she doesn’t speak out against human rights abuses allegedly committed by the Cojuangco-Aquino clan, in particular, regarding the incident involving the massacre of farmers at Hacienda Luisita in 2004 where seven protesting farmers were killed by members of the military.

Likewise, I have yet to hear Rosales or any of the human rights advocates speak out against President Benigno Simeon Aquino for violation of human rights by illegally detaining former President Gloria Arroyo even after the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has found that her continued detention is arbitrary and illegal under international law. Furthermore, Rosales didn’t speak out against the Department of Social Welfare and Development under the leadership of Corazon “Dinky” Soliman when the agency violated the human rights of street dwellers by detaining them against their will to hide them from foreign dignitaries visiting the country like Pope Francis and other world leaders who came for the APEC summit.

Having said all that, Rosales does have a point. To strengthen the country’s institutions, Filipinos need to respect the rule of law. This means following due process – a system that guarantees that the state respect all legal rights of the accused including the right to a presumption of innocence.

Unfortunately, this concept is too hard for most Filipinos to understand. While some may be ignorant of the idea behind due process, there are people who are aware of it but have become frustrated with the slow pace or lack of justice in the Philippines. Which is why it has become difficult for the average Filipino to believe in the Philippine justice system. This is especially true when they see “justice” leaning favorably towards the moneyed elite and those allied with people in power. In the Philippines, the principle that a person is innocent until proven guilty seems to apply only to those currently in power.

While Rosales is right about respecting the rule of law and the country’s institutions, she needs to answer this: Is the justice system working in the Philippines? It’s like the chicken and egg dilemma. How can one respect the rule of law when the system is broken? Even some lawmakers do not know how to follow the law. According to Duterte, he resorts to his own brand of justice because the “justice system as it is does not work”. The fact that he can get away with openly admitting that he supports extra-judicial killings of suspected criminals is enough proof that what he is saying is true – that the justice system in the Philippines does not work.

On the surface, there is an appearance that due process is being followed. But in some cases, the problem lies in the way verdicts are handed out. There are allegations some judges can be bribed to rule favorably towards the guilty party. Some said this was the case when Hubert Webb, son of popular basketball player and former senator Freddie Webb was acquitted in 2011 of the crime of the murders of three members of the Vizconde family in 1991. Despite the public uproar, the Supreme Court’s decision to free Webb and the other co-accused was final. Webb may have spent 15 years behind bars before being acquitted but there could be hundreds of people languishing in jail for decades because they do not have the money or connection to help “clear” their names.

President BS Aquino: It's high time somebody calls out his human rights violations.
President BS Aquino: It’s high time somebody calls out his human rights violations.
In another high-profile case involving former Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona, President BS Aquino allegedly bribed senator-judges using public funds during the impeachment trial to rule against Corona. Their verdict resulted in Corona’s removal from office. That was a classic example of due process seemingly being followed for the sake of “appearances” but the verdict or outcome was dubious. It was what they call a kangaroo court.

No wonder Duterte’s brand of “justice” is becoming popular not just with Davaoenos , but also with Filipinos all over the country. This is evident in Duterte leading the recent popularity survey among Presidential candidates.

The question now is, how can Duterte as President prevent the bribery of members of the law enforcement agencies including the judges in municipal courts on a national scale? It would be impossible for him to monitor everyone’s actions especially since he will also have to divide his time fixing and upgrading the country’s economy and infrastructure. It is only fair to ask him realistic questions since he finally decided to join the fray in the presidential elections.

Will Duterte be enough of a father figure to inspire everyone in the country especially the people running the justice system to behave? Or does he need to point a gun on everyone’s groin for them to develop a conscience? That indeed, remains to be seen.