Crime victims pin hopes on Duterte vow vs criminality


MANILA - An anti-crime group in Manila, with its walls lined with posters of victims, is banking on tough-talking Rodrigo Duterte to keep his promise to end criminality as the country expects him to soon be proclaimed the next Philippine president.

Duterte, the outspoken mayor of Davao in the southern Philippines, has campaigned on the single issue of crushing crime, corruption and drug abuse, and has gained widespread popularity from voters who perceive him to be a man capable of instigating change.

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Among Duterte's most devout supporters is Arseno "Boy" Evangelista, an official from the local non-profit organization Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC).

"His solution is very simple, and his political will is there, present," Evangelista said, trumping the mayor's plan to impose the death penalty. "You can feel the hope, you really feel that change is coming."

Evangelista's son was shot and burned to death by a carjacking syndicate in 2011. He joined the organization, which has been helping victims of heinous crimes cope since its conception 18 years ago, hoping he could help those who faced similar cases.

"Every time our loved ones go outside their home or the office, we don't know if they'll make it back alive," he said. "Peace of mind would give us assurance that our loved ones are safe and secure. So, law and order, public safety, should be the government's number one priority, as promised by the incoming president."

Reported crimes in the Philippines more than doubled from 319,441 cases in 2010, when the now-outgoing President Benigno Aquino took office, to 675,816 last year, according to national police data.

Roughly half of those were serious crimes, and there was a 120 percent jump in rape cases over this period.

Duterte has promised to ramp up the police force, in a similar way to what he has done in Davao, by doubling the pay of police officers, helping them settle legal disputes and adding more equipment to combat criminality.

But some disagree with this method, including the Philippine human rights group Karapatan.

"The issue of poverty is not being addressed at all. If the poor commit crimes, it's because of desperation brought about by poverty, gross inequality of access to education, and the lack of a rehabilitative framework in the country's existing justice and penal system. The death penalty formula cannot resolve the problems of an unjust system," said the group's secretary general, Cristina Palabay.

Known as 'The Punisher', Duterte's incendiary rhetoric and advocacy of extra-judicial killings to stamp out crime and drugs have alarmed many who hear echoes of the Southeast Asian country's authoritarian past.

Karapatan said it will keep a close eye on Duterte and report any extra-judicial killings his administration may undertake when he, likely, assumes his post in June.