Why I am glad Duterte isn't running (so far)

Inday Espina-Varona

Posted at Oct 19 2015 06:01 PM | Updated as of Oct 20 2015 02:01 AM

Social media is a fast and furious panorama of movement, so many people who saw the photo of my bald self, and the shared posts on the frenzy over Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte (including the now-closed Miriam-Duterte petition), asked if I was a Digong fan.

I am glad he isn’t running. Hopefully, that’s the last word on this issue. I would not want to see a Duterte presidency.


Duterte has heaps of charisma.

A beauty salon’s entire staff have pledged their votes to Duterte — never mind that they don’t know anyone who actually knows the guy.

Many taxi drivers are for Duterte, says Mae Paner, veteran of that mode of transport.

My household companions tell me the staff at the nearby supermarket and the vendors at the Talipapa are mostly for Duterte, though Vice President Jejomar Binay still has some grip in these sectors.

It’s not just the poor. A Duterte stroll in Greenbelt turns into a circus — fast.

Like Imelda Marcos, he keeps you fascinated. Pretty much the same way dancing cobras attract crowds.

Like Joseph Estrada, he has mastered one-liners, the made-for-TV quips, the mercurial changes of mood.

Digong speaking to fans.

My Davao-based friends and relatives — most of them anyway — swear fealty to Duterte. He keeps the city clean and orderly and peaceful, they say.

I am not about to dispute that sentiment, though the last two visits had me stranded in traffic jams not much unlike those we suffer in Metro Manila.

He loves the Lumad! says a friend.

He supports the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL)! says another friend.

He defends the human rights of the Left! says a third friend.

He sent air early to Yolanda victims! says another.

Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

These are some things that make me like Duterte very much.
But I have said this and won’t tire of saying this. There is a reason the phrase says, “BASIC human rights."

I cannot campaign for the rights of the Lumad, or the rights of the Bangsamoro people, or the rights of activists and journalists, rights workers, lawyers and judges and, yes, victims of crimes … and then shrug off the basic right to life of other folk.

I am not accusing Duterte of killing people. I am saying he has a very selective concept of justice.

I am very glad Carlos Conde, now with Human Rights Watch, documented stories for years.

Here is one of the stories, “Teenagers Perish in Davao’s Killing Fields.”

In late September last year, Duterte described the series of killings of suspected criminals as unlawful. But he also made it clear he was hardly sorry that they were happening. “I do not have any tears for you if you die, you idiots!” he said, referring to drug pushers. “You all deserved to die.”

Last March, Duterte once again declared war against teenage gangs, which the local police say are responsible for most of the crimes committed in the city. “If they offer resistance,” the mayor told reporters here, “I will not hesitate to kill them. I don’t care about minors.”

Such declarations have upset child-rights advocates, including Councilor Angela Librado. The chair of the City Council’s committee on women and children, Librado notes that while the mayor “hasn’t really violated any law,” his statements “send the wrong signal to the public. The signal is that, it’s okay for these people to die because they are useless anyway.”

If anything, Duterte’s contempt for teenage gangs and his
encouragement of extra-judicial methods to deal with them have made children in conflict with the law fair game. Two weekends ago, three minors who had had brushes with the police were killed in separate incidents by unknown assailants.


The Signal. I take that very seriously, having heard the very same line from Norberto Manero, who was convicted of killing of Italian priest Tullio Favali on April 11, 1985 in Tuluan, North Cotabato.

In an interview shortly before he was released (pardon revoked after a public outcry) by former President Macapagal-Arroyo, Manero — also a very charismatic man — said his followers, including his brother, literally took matters in their own hands, when he joked he wanted to see Tuvali gone from the face of the earth.

He was convicted because witnesses placed him at the scene of the crime. He has since changed colours, according to this poignant story. But you want to read the narrative on Favali’s death to appreciate how much one man can have the power of life and death over others.

Duterte welcomes a soldier taken prisoner of war by the NPA.


The HRW has also issued a report on the Davao death squads.

I followed those stories closely, gratified to see the groups often tagged “Left” and thus also prone to being victims of extra-judicial killings, confronting their friend Digong on the issue. I remember one very angry Duterte tirade addressed to Karapatan.

This, I think, is a principled stand. You work together on some issues but there are lines on the sand you do not cross. And there are things that brook no silence, because the latter only encourages more abuse — or deliberate neglect of situations.

Especially because we are talking of the land’s highest office.
I totally agree that systemic murders and systemic crimes should be exposed.

I also say that every line of Digong’s quotable quotes encourages these very same crimes, no matter his actions on other issues.

I can also see where Duterte fans are coming from. Too much violence, too much crime; too many state enforcement agents moonlighting as protectors or enforcers of crime gangs. Thus, the need for a tough cowboy.

My Davao friends, save a handful, love Duterte. Not all will vote for him. From them, I have heard the same arguments raised by Conde in his PCIJ article.

“The public’s tacit support for the killings is one reason local authorities, including the police, do not appear interested in finding the killers. Many Davaoeños believe that the executions are helping keep their city safe and do not seem to care that minors are among those being killed as part of a campaign against youth offenders, many of whom are petty thieves.

"This is why Davaoeños support Rodrigo Duterte, their tough-talking mayor, who has made it well known that he will stop at nothing to fight criminals.

"This is why Davaoeños support Rodrigo Duterte, their tough-talking mayor, who has made it well known that he will stop at nothing to fight criminals."

Duterte sending off aid workers to Yolanda

My personal view is this: I don’t care if they are alleged criminals. When last I checked, suspects have rights.

I can rail against a person — Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, for example — and still defend her right to due process. I can rail against a corrupt official — the former Chief Justice Renato Corona, among others — and call out the short cuts taken in the name of “justice”.

I must also point out that the onus to respect human rights weighs more on the state and its officials, precisely because they wield great power.

Murder done in the name of order and the rights of most of us peaceful citizens is still murder. It has no place in law
enforcement. You cannot enforce the law by breaking the law.

Duterte’s fans say, rightly, that people should file cases against him. I agree.

And I also say, you cannot shrug off — nay, even cheer on killers. Not when you are a chief executive.

I cannot accept claims that he is just “joking,” that this is all an act.

He is an officer sworn to uphold the law. The Philippine President is the country’s most powerful man. Duterte’s words give me nightmares about the implications on the nation and our rights as citizens.

Don’t tell me only the guilty needs to be scared. That sounds like the incumbent Chief Executive. Hundreds of journalists and activists have been killed, tortured, jailed simply because some people think they make life inconvenient for the powers that be.

I take #NeverForget and #NeverAgain seriously. That is why I fight for Lumad Rights, among other things.

I still respect Government for all its faults. I cannot cast my vote with a hope that one man might just be joking.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.