Mariel Bianca 16.01.2016

There truly is nothing like the lead up to the Philippine Presidential Elections. On November 26, Rodrigo Duterte finally announced his candidacy for President. For months, Duterte has played coy with the public on whether or not he would officially join the Presidential race. His 3 adult children, Former Mayor of Davao Sara Duterte Carpio, current Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte, and Sebastian Duterte have all shaved their heads to show their support and encouragement for their father to run for president. Unnecessarily dramatic? Yes. Uncommon? Not at all. Welcome to Philippine politics.

Duterte is running on a platform of upholding law and order, although he has a very selective understanding of the law. Duterte’s supporters highlight how Duterte, as mayor, has transformed the city of Davao from dangerous “killing fields” in the 1980s to an emerging urban center and one of Asia’s safest cities today. Duterte is open about his strategies in fighting crime. He is more popularly known as “The Punisher”, because of his admitted links to “Davao’s death squads” and his use of extrajudicial killings to fight crime[1].

Duterte emerges as a strong candidate amongst others like Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, who is known for her resilience, quick-wit and sarcasm in dealing with her opponents. Her vice presidential bet and running mate is Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., the son of the late dictator and plunderer, Ferdinand Marcos.  Her choice for running mate was extremely controversial[2], yet she remains highly popular among Filipino netizens[3].

The drama surrounding the Presidential candidates is equally entertaining and frustrating. I am frustrated because Filipinos deserve better. In endorsing Marcos Jr., Santiago has completely let down the families of the victims of the Marcos dictatorship. Marcos loyalists who refuse to understand the political and social implications of Marcos’ bloody and brutal dictatorship — rejoice! Moreover, although Ferdinand Marcos’ lifeless body is locked in his cryogenic freezer tomb, his spirit lives on in Rodrigo “the Punisher” Duterte. In being so open about his strategies, which primarily include killing off those who break the law, Duterte is promoting a discourse of impunity and is paving the way of Martial Law Round 2 for the Philippines.

Duterte speaks of law and order but he operates outside of the law. What the Philippines needs is accountability. Duterte’s supporters are quick to overlook Duterte’s human rights violations by justifying that they now feel safer.  They acknowledge the existence of the Davao death squad and some go as far as praising their vigilante heroes. After all, according to Duterte and his supporters, if you are not a criminal, you have nothing to worry about! However, a report by Human Rights Watch found that “Most victims of death squad killings have been alleged drug dealers, petty criminals, and street children. Further, mistaken identity victims, bystanders, and family members or friends of intended targets have also been killed in death squad attacks [4].

What Duterte and his supporters fail to realize is that systematic inequality, and the failure of his office to provide the appropriate and necessary public social goods such as housing, public health and education, are factors which pressure an individual to pursue a life of crime.The Philippines has an extremely unequal and stratified society. Do people honestly believe that if the street children in the Philippines were fed, and had access to high quality education and public health services, that they would  have the incentive to steal or get involved with gangs? Are we really that pessimistic about human nature? Do people genuinely think street children are just inherently depraved? If you don’t want to be the next victim of Duterte and Davao’s death squad, then, (1) don’t get involved in crime, and (2) don’t be poor.

When asked about how he would fix the economy in the Philippines, Duterte stated, “You cannot improve an economy without law and order. Davao was a lawless land…I was needed to ensure order.” I agree with this wholeheartedly. In order to ensure socioeconomic prosperity, civil and political affairs must also be in order. But it is obvious that we have different understandings of law and order. Like Duterte, I am frustrated that our government is extremely inefficient. Like Duterte, I am frustrated that we have numerous corrupt government officials. Like Duterte, I am frustrated that crime syndicates essentially run and terrorize our country. Like Duterte, I am also frustrated with the inefficiency of the justice system in the Philippines.

However, unlike Duterte, I do still believe in the Philippines experiencing positive peace. Sociologist Johan Galtung makes a distinction between negative and positive peace (1969: 183): negative peace refers to the absence of direct violence, whereas positive peace refers to the absence of structural violence. Positive peace can also be considered as social justice and is a positive condition, with the equal distribution of power and resources. The Philippines will never be able to experience this positive peace if Duterte focuses solely on killing whomever he deems is a problem to society.

Duterte has a great reputation when it comes to delivering aid during humanitarian emergencies. Additionally, he is extremely charismatic and no doubt has the ability to lead effectively. If only he could use these skills to focus on ensuring that every Filipino has access to high quality education, housing and healthcare, so that perhaps they may be able to avoid his death squads.


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