Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Rodrigo Duterte's drugs purge sends Philippines into danger zone

He has little time for the usual presumption of innocence, due legal process and the separation of powers between the executive and the judiciary.

The 160,000-odd Filipino-Australians are entitled to be distraught at the way new president Rodrigo Duterte is conducting an anti-drugs purge in their homeland. Driven by concern over corruption of public officials and what he claims to be a pandemic in which 3 per cent of the population are addicts, Mr Duterte has stepped up his search-and-destroy project against those he suspects of supporting the illicit drugs industry.

"We will not stop until the last drug lord, the last financier and the last pusher have surrendered or been put behind bars ... or below ground if you wish," he said on Sunday.

Mr Duterte named almost 160 lawyers, judges, military officers and even the police as suspects in a national TV address, saying they would be stripped of their gun licences in a nation wracked by crime gangs.
But some on the hit list are dead or have already been dismissed, raising concerns about an approach already under fire for being based more on conspiracy theories than publicly available evidence.
Mr Duterte has little time for the usual presumption of innocence, due legal process and the separation of powers between the executive and the judiciary.
"Due process has nothing to do with my mouth," Mr Duterte said. "There are no proceedings here, no lawyers."
While the President has previously opposed extrajudicial killings, his rhetoric seems to have empowered and validated vigilantes who have sought to impose mob justice.
About 600,000 people have surrendered to police and at least 400 people suspected of dealing or even using drugs have been killed by vigilantes and authorities since the President took power in June. His platform reflected the "shoot-to-kill" methods he employed for two decades as mayor of the southern city of Davao.
The President has pledged to pardon police accused of human rights violations and has even been happy to liken his legacy to that of former Ugandan despot Idi Amin.
Mr Duterte wants to end the decade-long ban on capital punishment in the Philippines for "retribution" against criminals. The move has won the support of the nation's most popular sportsman, boxer Manny Pacquiao, who has been elected to the Senate.
"God allows the death penalty to discipline the people and to punish those wrongdoers," the senator said in comments aimed at offering justification for the crackdown to a population, which is 80 per cent Roman Catholic.
The church has voiced concerns about the threat to the rule of law.
But some in the media are lauding Mr Duterte's approach as a reality check after the disappointments flowing from the so-called people's revolution of 1986 and subsequent governments. Some claim the President's purge is part of a campaign to rid the Philippines of oligarchs – the big families who control much of the nation's economy, allegedly at the expense of the poor. Mr Duterte has targeted large companies that avoid tax.
His hardline, populist approach has prompted some to liken Mr Duterte to US presidential candidate Donald Trump, but that's hardly constructive. They do share an ability to tap into disgruntled voters who seek simple solutions to complex problems. Beyond that, Mr Duterte's family is growing in power as he shows signs of leadership more akin to long-time Philippines dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Indeed, he has split the nation by agreeing to the Marcos family's decades-old request to bury the embalmed body in the so-called Heroes Cemetery alongside war heroes and eminent individuals.
Mr Marcos ruled the Philippines for 31 years, for the most part through martial law, restrictions on the rights of his opponents and stacking public institutions with his supporters.
Now Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno is so worried by Mr Duterte's brazen approach that she sent him a letter warning that only the Supreme Court is authorised to discipline members of the judiciary and that judges could become what she called "collateral damage". With 26 judges assassinated since 1999, and most by crime lords, the chief justice demanded that the President allow the judges to retain their gun licences for self defence.
Yes, the Philippines has corruption and drug problems. The way Mr Duterte is behaving, it is rapidly gaining a government problem as well.
Sydney Morning Herald

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