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Call out the president's hubris

Over a year into his presidency, I have realized that President Rodrigo Duterte is the type of leader who takes care not to give the impression of being weak in his policies, especially in his administration's campaign against drugs.

Thus, at the risk of sounding ruthless or cold-hearted, Duterte would never dilute his offensive comments with qualifiers. And if he ever does qualify his statements, one would notice a hint of a smirk that is every bit as menacing as the extreme intonation in his speeches.

It does make his message clear, not only to the drug dealers but also to law enforcers. However, Duterte's unequivocal and unapologetic stance in dealing with illegal drugs with brute force also risks being seen by abusive cops as a blank check or a carte blanche for the mass murder of suspected drug dealers. The same is also being used in justifying collateral harm to innocent people as an acceptable part of this drug war.

The death of a 17-year-old boy, Kian delos Santos, in the hands of Caloocan City police last week may yet become a wake-up call for those who are supporting Duterte's blood-soaked drug war.

I both have pro- and anti-Duterte friends in social media but I have never until a week ago seen my Facebook wall deluged with posts expressing sympathy for Kian and calling for justice and an end to the unmitigated killings. The posts were not just from my "anti-Duterte" friends but also from those I perceive as impartial or erstwhile disinterested. There were usual attempts from the pro-Duterte crowd to put Kian's killing "in its proper context" but the reaction coming from the Duterte supporters was unusually feeble.

Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma, who has always been judicious in commenting about some of Duterte's controversial policies, has condemned the killing of the 17-year-old boy. Archbishop Palma said that while he continues to support the government's anti-drug drive, he opposes the way it is being conducted. He echoes the fear that our society has developed a culture of killing because of the drug war.

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Duterte's allies in the Senate have also condemned what they call "the recent spate of abuses" by the police, including the killing of senior high school student Kian. Among those who signed the resolution within the majority bloc was Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III himself.

While careful in not laying the blame directly on Duterte, the senators may at some point have to hold the president directly accountable once there is mounting public pressure that would significantly erode Duterte's influence during the midterm elections. 

It might be possible that the president himself might loosen the grip that has kept his drug war seem unrelenting and astounding. He may now have realized that killing drug dealers on a national scale may be easier said than done compared to what he used to "inspire" or "encourage" in Davao City.

Or that may be wishful thinking. As I wrote earlier, the president will avoid doing anything that will make him appear weak, especially when it concerns peace and order, his number one priority. However, mounting public pressure may provide him an excuse to recalibrate his approach, go back to the drawing board, and look for an alternative to the violence and abuse he has inspired.

Thus, it is our duty as a people to critically engage the president in the decisions he makes for our country. No leader in the history of this young nation of ours has been so strong in character as to avoid being seduced by the hubris and illusions that come with adulation and power.

ianmanticajon@gnail.com.

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