I recall two movie franchises I enjoyed in my youth, Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry, and Charles Bronson’s Death Wish. At the time these films were released, major cities in the United States were in the grips of a vast crime wave. Americans living in big cities lived in fear of the stereotypical armed mugger lurking around every corner. There are many other mass media works that tap into people’s lack of confidence in legitimate authorities’ ability to serve their needs. The A-Team and The Equalizer of 1980’s television added a layer of sophistication to the brutality of vigilantism Eastwood and Bronson portrayed in the 1970s. Even in the Golden Age of Cinematic Superheroes we are in the midst of today (thanks to the fully-matured computer-generated imagery (CGI) employed by today’s movies), the bad guys are portrayed as forces far more powerful than human security institutions could handle. Superheroes that simply “smash” (as The Incredible Hulk likes to call his way of resolving issues) save the day in every such stories.
In America, vigilantism is no longer seen to be as glamorous as it was in the 1970s and 1980s. But it is not because the vigilante heroes of Eastwood, Bronson, George Peppard, and Edward Woodward are now seen as the bad guys. Indeed, the characters they played remain strong cultural pillars in America. Rather, it was because America has improved its ability to protect its citizens using legitimately improved policing, investigation, criminal justice application, and security management.
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In the Philippines, the response of government in light of the increased scrutiny on Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte’s approaches to establishing law and order in his domain is to demonise him. While Duterte’s approaches are, indeed, violations of “human rights” and, we are told, have no place in “civilised” societies, it is interesting to note the 11-th hour (yet again) “indignation” being expressed by Imperial Manila’s chattering classes.
Perhaps what the likes of Department of Justice Secretary Leila De Lima who, in recent days, reportedly said that Duterte should be “held criminally liable for 1,000 summary killings in Davao City” should also consider is the question of whether a justice system as snail-paced, unreliable, and corrupt as that she presides over in the Philippines belongs in a “civilised” society.
The only way Filipino ‘superheroes’ like Rodrigo Duterte, who are loved and admired for their ability to simply smash rampant criminality, could be made to fade into the background of the national consciousness is for the Philippines’ police and justice authorities to step up and forward and take their righful places as the Filipino’s real champions. In short, bring back the days when one sees the police as the go-to people when in trouble.
The quaint hypocrisy in the way De Lima and so-called “champions” of “human rights” go around stomping their feet in contrived “indignation” is the real outrage on exhibit today. While championing “human rights” in the Philippines only yielded the flaccid post-1986 governments we see today, guys like Duterte were delivering real results to their constituents. Indeed, the notion that post-1986 governance in the Philippines was an improvement over the the allegedly dictatorial regime of former President Ferdinand E. Marocs has gone from being a widely-accepted truism into a hopelessly debatable idea. In fact, the idea that “freedom” and “justice” were “regained” by Filipinos after 1986 will likely degenerate further into no more than a curious myth thanks to the failed presidency of President Benigno Simeon ‘BS’ Aquino III.
If Duterte’s vigilante-style justice has no placed in “civilised” society, neither does the mediocre glacial-paced justice that people like De Lima and her boss, President BS Aquino, has had more than ample opportunity to fix. For that matter, until both vigilantism and the crooked way “justice” is served in the Philippines is fixed, the notion that the Philippines is a modern “civilised” nation remains debatable too.
benign0 is the Webmaster of GetRealPhilippines.com.