What is it about vigilantism that appeals so much to Filipinos? The thought of taking the law into one’s hands is a common Filipino fantasy. Philippine cinema reflects this as have many recent public explosions of uncontrolled often violent rage coming from ordinary Filipinos, many of which were captured in videos that went viral over the Net. It seems these are all signs of growing public frustration over banal criminality in Philippine society that pervades from the very top all the way down to the grassroots. Crooks routinely get away with murder and massive thievery in the Philippines whether it be perpetrated by Senators and Presidents skimming “commissions” off slush funds rendered immune from public audit by administrative sleight of hand or by drug-crazed bus drivers and their bosses to whom putting thousands of lives at risk is but a part of another typical day at the office.One of the many illegal activities that seemingly remained beyond the reach of the law but has now been the subject of much headline news is rice smuggling. “Businessman” Davidson Bangayan (allegedly a.k.a. David Tan) has been alleged to be the mastermind of massive rice smuggling operations. And renowned Law-West-of-the-Pecos mayor Rodrigo Duterte of Davao City is on his case. Invited to the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food inquiry on rice smuggling, Duterte reportedly went as far as threatening the life of Bangayan after he positively identified him as being “David Tan”, something that Bangayan has repeatedly denied…
“I will gladly kill him. I could go to prison for it. I’m old, your honor. I could spend the remaining days of my life (there). Matanda na rin ako. Marami na rin akong sakit. The most is about five to 10 years. I can do away with the stress by reading books,” said Duterte, referring to Bangayan, who is being tagged by the intelligence community as David Tan, the alleged king of rice smugglers in the country.
As to why resort to killing crooks, Duterte went on to spell out the bottom line…
“The trouble with us in government is that we talk too much, act too slow and do too little. Don’t we?” he added.
Quizzed by Senator Jinggoy Estrada on which branch of government he was referring to, the mayor said he was referring to the Bureau of Customs, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), and the Department of Justice (DOJ). All three agencies, he said, failed to address the issue of smuggling.
Duterte is known for his personal brand of iron-fisted rule which he has applied for years in Davao City. The city is specifically known for the infamous “Davao Death Squads” or DDS. Duterte once joked about the “D” in DDS standing for “Duterte” in a TIME Asia article that ran with the title “The Punisher.” Whether Duterte’s links with the DDS are true or not, he seems to find no reason to distance himself from the brand of rough justice that vigilante groups like it stand for…
Duterte is unapologetic about his willingness to venture beyond what legal niceties might permit. Criminals and rebels, he says menacingly from his perch at the bar, “do not have a monopoly on evil.” A long, hard stare leaves little doubt that this is not idle talk. One day his methods might be unnecessary, he says. But for now, he insists on what most people from this town have also come to believe: “The only reason there is peace and order in Davao is because of me.”
…an attitude that has earned him many fans in the Philippines’ southern provinces and pretty much secures his family’s dynastic rule over Davao.
The use of state-sanctioned vigilantes also became prevalent during the regime of former Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos who, in 1984, deployed plain-clothed police personnel in public buses and jeepneys with orders to shoot criminals on sight. This was a drastic measure supposedly to curb rampant criminality back then. More than 50 suspected criminals were killed in just one month over which this police approach was in effect. More recently in 2006, then Cebu Roman Catholic Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal endorsed the deployment of secret marshals under similar premises in Metropolitan Cebu City which at the time was being wracked by a crime wave.
As layer upon layer of instances of failure in law enforcement pile up and as Filipinos’ already meagre faith in their country’s criminal justice system further erodes, the case for vigilantism gets stronger as the public grows restless. Reports of Mexican drug cartel operations making inroads into the Philippines are not helping considering that Mexico has itself reportedly “essentially legalized” vigilantism…
The government said it had reached an agreement with vigilante leaders to incorporate the armed civilian groups into old and largely forgotten quasi-military units called the Rural Defense Corps. Vigilante groups estimate their numbers at 20,000 men under arms.
But that is Mexico. The difference is that, in the Philippines, it is key officers of the government itself that are regarded by the public as the very crooks that need to be subject to this ancient form of justice. Indeed, unlike Mexico, in the Philippines, the biggest stakes as far as the amount of money involved, involves not drugs but discretionary government funds used by officials to buy and sell political favours — which means that, in the Philippines, the biggest crooks by far are not drug lords and terrorists, but Senators and Presidents on account of their having a direct hand in this massive institutionalised thievery.
It is the worst form of national criminality — one where the crooks themselves are the very people whose duty it is to catch crooks and prevent crooked activity. It does not really take a rocket scientist to figure out why none of the Philippines’ big issues ever get convincingly resolved.
Could I have a large fries with my vigilante burger plez?[Photo courtesy Philippine News.]
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