MANILA, Philippines - Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte earns plus points for genuinely caring for her constituents but her abuse of a regional trial court sheriff is inexcusable, the Commission on Human Rights said Monday.
CHR Chairwoman Etta Rosales said she was shocked to see the video of Duterte punching sheriff Abe Andres repeatedly last Friday after the latter carried out the demolition of shanties in Agdao district.
"What shocked me was the aggressiveness of Mayor Duterte. I've spoken to her before and found her to be a very reform-oriented mayor. She impressed me as a matter of fact so it shocked me to see her very aggressive, that she punched...the poor sheriff. What shocked me further is sinundan. After she punched him, the sheriff was not the aggressor but he was the one being held. Parang nasabunutan," she told ANC's "Headstart."
Rosales said Duterte was correct in carrying out a dialogue with the residents and explaining that the demolition must be carried.
"Makatao. That is exactly what it should be. There must be dialogue. Provisions are given so that residents are made to understand why they must be relocated," she said.
On the other hand, she said Duterte's use of violence against the sheriff was unjustifiable.
"Once you justify the use of force then it becomes easier to use violence and isn't that our problem, the problem of lack of command responsibility and the problem of impunity? The problem of impunity is reflected both in uniformed and civilian authorities within the bureaucracy and government," she said.
"Ang mayor well intentioned siya sa pagtutulong sa tao pero yung paraan natin gumagamit tayo ng due process, gumagamit tayo ng batas, hindi tayo gumagamit ng pwersa. Oras na pinabayaan mo si mayor na manuntok, aba'y lahat na ng mayors pwedeng manuntok. Magkakaroon tayo ng problema riyan dahil marami tayong mayors. Meron tayong democratic process," she added.
The CHR chief said Duterte's security personnel should also be held liable for holding down Andres while the mayor continued to berate him.
"[Andres] was not the offender, not the aggressor so parang pinagbigyan nila yung mayor to go on with her punches against the poor government employee so there was abuse of authority here. What was violated was the physical integrity of the employee and his right to due process," she said.
Duterte has taken a 5-day leave of absence to allow the Department of the Interior and Local Government to investigate the punching incident. The mayor said she will not apologize to Andres since he ignored her request to delay the demolition for 2 hours.
Jonathan Lledo, president of the National Prosecutors League of the Philippines, earlier said Duterte could be held liable for indirect contempt for disrupting the implementation of a court order. He noted that the mayor has no jurisdiction over Andres since he is a member of the judiciary.
"We are duty bound to uphold the majesty of the law, to respect and implement lawful and legal court practices... so pag violate natin yan pwede tayo sampahan ng indirect contempt penalty of which may be a fine or imprisonment depending on the court," he said.
'Sheriff also in the wrong'
Rosales, meanwhile, pointed out that Andres was also in the wrong for not listening to Duterte's request to delay the demolition for 2 hours.
"The sheriff had the discretion... to just hold on and listen to the mayor. The sheriff should have listened to Duterte. That is the dialogue, that is the more humane process rather than forcing the people to get out because we're going to destroy your properties. As best as possible, that should not even happen," Rosales said.
The CHR chief also noted that the sheriff's action was very counterproductive considering that Davao was still recovering from devastating flash floods that affected thousands of families.
Asked if the sheriff is liable for anything, Rosales said: "Yes, negligence or ignorance. You know we are state parties to international standards. That sheriff has no sense of what this is all about. The mechanical way by which he obeys orders or enforces ruling shows his narrowness as a public official and that to me is the problem."
She added: "You look at the entire problem wholistically. You don't compartmentalize and say this is the only thing I'm accountable for, which is the typical way people think in the bureaucracy."
'Discipline through fear'
Rosales acknowledged that many people are praising Duterte because her intentions were good. She, however, noted that praising Duterte's actions encourages the same feudal system that allows violence to be tolerated.
"I've read some columns praising her, that this is what we need. In a feudal culture like ours, we need a strong woman like this. I understand why there is that kind of thinking but it worries me because that is not the correct way of doing things because if you do that, you remain feudal. If that is what you are trying to rectify, your feudal culture, it's not going to help any that you are praising people who use force when you've got rules and due process. the only problem is you are not enforcing it," she said.
"I remember during the time of Marcos, there was a lot of fear. People were praising Marcos because there was order and discipline. Kailangan nang Pilipino ay disiplina. But that is the feudal culture we are talking about. People are not empowered to participate productively in the making of a nation because they live (in) fear. Now if the leader was benevolent and generous and so on, fine, mukhang walang problema but it does not happen all the time. There have been dictators. Suharto was a dictator. Stalin was a dictator. Marcos was a dictator. The people live in fear but at a certain point, you cannot continue living in it. You have to fight for your right to survive as a human being," she added.
Guidelines on demolitions
Rosales said the CHR will not be conducting its own investigation on the punching incident but will instead monitor the DILG investigation.
She said the CHR is now set to craft guidelines on the conduct of demolitions where there is a problem of informal settlers.
"Our role is to make guidelines where human rights must be the underpinning of every agency and we encourage multi-stakeholders consultations to ensure that each one learns from the others instead of fragmentation," she said.
"You are dealing with human beings and each one has dignity and self-worth. His right to have a home and decent living must be safeguarded. When you want him to transfer, you have to dialogue with him," she added.