Failure to explain drug war

- Boo Chanco - The Philippine Star

Now it is getting a bit more dangerous for President Duterte and the country. The International Criminal Court (ICC) is getting in on the act and may investigate our government’s war on drugs. It could cast a bad light not just on the President but on the country. That’s what happens with a failure to clarify what exactly is going on.

I think I know where the problem is. President Duterte seems to have purposely blurred extrajudicial killings with his war on drugs to instill fear among the criminals. It worked in Davao. But what may work in a smaller and better controlled environment like Davao may be inappropriate to apply for the whole country.

The President must make a clear distinction. The war on drugs is a legitimate anti-crime operation. But extra judicial killings and those anonymous bodies with cardboard signs claiming a drug lord kill are ordinary murder cases the police must resolve.

The President should also stop saying he doesn’t care about human rights because respect for human rights is part of the Constitution he swore to uphold. Otherwise, he unwittingly presents a regime that does not respect the rule of law and that’s not acceptable in the civilized world.

Two things created a wrong impression: first of all is the President’s tough talk and the second is the inability of the PNP to solve the extrajudicial killings that are likely due to rogue police officers and drug lords fighting for turf.

The President keeps on threatening to kill those in the drug trade and has been telling police officers that they can shoot to kill in self defense.

“You destroy my country, I’ll kill you. And it’s a legitimate thing. If you destroy our young children, I will kill you. That is a very correct statement. There is nothing wrong in trying to preserve the interest of the next generation.”

Up until last Monday it seemed the President is not going to tone himself down because as he puts it, “I have to strike fear to fight the drug problem.”

But because of all the threatening, the world thinks he is the author of all the 3,000+ killings since he became president. The lack of quick action on those killings implies some kind of state sanction.

At Al Jazeera last Sunday, the President finally said he is not to blame for those killings. Those killings, he said, are carried out by criminal elements taking advantage of his war on drugs. But why isn’t the PNP solving those cases and bringing the murderers to justice?

Indeed, the only way to reverse the perception of a serial killer president, as a French newspaper described him, is to show he is making a distinction between legitimate police operations against drug lords and those extra judicial killings. This means having the PNP clean up its act. There should be more immediate drastic action against rogue cops and solutions of cases of extra judicial killings.

That the motorcycle riding killers of an anticrime advocate in Mindoro turned out to be PNP police officers, both alumni of the police academy, does not do the image of the PNP any good.

If those rogue police officers were not caught in time, the crime will likely be called drug related. This practice taints the President’s anti- drug program.

This is not the first time the police force had been shown in a bad light in the last hundred days. There are the suspicious killings inside the Pasay police department offices, the kidnapping and killing of an OFW in Cavite, the attempted killing of a tricycle driver in Malate who, however, survived and now this one in Mindoro.

Even the PNP chief has time and again lamented the existence of so called ninja cops who recycle confiscated drugs and selling these to the market. It will greatly improve the image of the PNP and of the President’s anti-drug campaign if these rogue officers are meted quick justice.

Otherwise, people start feeling insecure about the police. As Randy David puts it, “people who express deep reservations about the daily killing of suspected drug peddlers and addicts are told they have nothing to worry about so long as they themselves are not into drugs.

“But — given that a lot of crimes can be committed and concealed under the cover of the war on drugs — this assurance hardly inspires confidence…” The police must actively show it is cleaning up its ranks.

To prevent miscommunication with the world, the President should make an effort to nuance his call to kill and kill. He must equally emphasize that all illegal acts of police officers will be dealt with severely… that all claims of killings in line with the drug war will be thoroughly investigated. Otherwise the rule of law will look compromised and that affects even the attitude of investors.

I can feel the President is sincere and is using drastic measures because the problem is so serious. But the unintended consequences of negative world attention are impairing the benefits of the drug war. The ICC prosecutor’s announcement of a probable investigation is a good example of a negative externality arising from a failure to communicate properly.

Being a lawyer and a former prosecutor, the President is confident he is not breaking any law by threatening criminals with death. But he has also said enough provocative statements to incriminate him. And an international criminal court may hold him liable for all those murders.

The President should heed the advice of Rep. Harry Roque, the sole Filipino member of the bar in the ICC, who advised the President to be very careful in his speeches. The party list congressman said Duterte’s threats to kill criminals may be used against him should a case be brought to the ICC.

Roque warned that the President could be culpable “if his words are construed as having ordered the killings or if he incurs responsibility under the principle of command responsibility because he knew about the crime and he did not do anything to prevent them and to investigate and prosecute the crimes. That is the state of law under international humanitarian law. We cannot alter this.”

In Brunei last Monday, the President denied that the extra judicial killings are state sponsored. Beyond the denial, the President, according to Rep. Roque, should “immediately investigate and prosecute the perpetrators of these killings. That is ultimately his strongest defense.”

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco.

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