They say that Duterte has created a “culture of impunity” with his statements for police and even civilians to go after and kill criminals. They blame him for the recent spate of cardboard killings regardless of whether he actually ordered the hits, or if they were really “extrajudicial killings” in the first place. It doesn’t matter, they say, because his words have enabled people to think that murder is justifiable. Those who are riding the bandwagon can do so because he created the environment for them to do so.
Well, maybe so. But remember that his “shoot them” or “kill them” statements are always prefaced with “if they resist arrest or fight back.” Now you may argue that these words are just for show but I can counter-argue that that is merely your opinion. I mean, the instruction cannot be any clearer than that. I have several friends who own guns but I don’t see any of them going trigger-happy or rushing to buy rolls of duct tape or reams of cardboard.
But let me share my perspective on this so-called culture of impunity. I will not argue that there is none. On the contrary, I will argue that it has long been there.
I lived in Metro Manila for around 15 years of my life. These are some of my experiences there:
My then-girlfriend-now-wife made a U-turn on a street. A policeman came out from behind a tree and motioned for her to pull over. He said, “You can’t make a U-turn there.”
My wife then argued, “But there’s no sign that says you can’t make a U-turn.”
“Well,” said the policeman, “there’s no sign that says you’re allowed to make one either.”
I was driving along Sta. Mesa near SM Centerpoint. At the intersection of V. Mapa, I took the middle lane and went straight ahead. A bunch of policemen were waiting at the other side and motioned for me to stop.
“Sir, you went straight on a mandatory left-turn lane,” they said.
Say what? I have yet to see a traffic rule book that says the center lane is a mandatory left-turn lane and that one has to take the rightmost lane in order to go straight. This was clearly another attempt to fleece motorists of their money.
At one time, I was going to fetch a friend from the airport. Since I arrived quite early, I parked at one of the sidestreets to wait for the plane to arrive. A few minutes later, a couple of airport policemen drove by and got down. One of them approached me and asked me for my license saying I was parked at a no-parking zone. I said, “There’s no sign or marking here that says ‘No Parking.’” Then the guy walks over to his older companion, who then approaches me. I make the same objection, and he says, “No parking nga dito. Gago lang hindi alam na hindi pwede mag-parking dito.” (Only stupid people don’t know that you can’t park here). I was incensed and asked for his name, but he refused to give it to me.
Later on, after fetching my friend from the airport, I was still fuming mad so I went to the airport police station to report the incident. I got to talk to the police chief and told him my story. He said, well, that’s really a no-parking zone and I said, never mind about that if it is, but your officer treated me with disrespect.
Then I noticed that the guy was there at the other desk, his back turned, typing on a computer. So I told the chief and he confronted the man who took one look at me and said, “Oh him, he tried to bribe my partner with a P500 bill.” His companion suddenly appeared from an adjoining cubicle and chimed in, drowning my protests to the chief. My companion whispered to me and said, “Let’s go. We won’t get anywhere here. It seems they’re all in this together.”
So I told the chief as I went away, “You know, you think about this. Do you think I would have the gall to come here and complain to you if I had knowingly tried to bribe them?”
He mumbled something about reassigning the old guy to another department but I really didn’t care anymore.
You talk about a culture of impunity? How about policemen who disregard traffic lights? Who make left-turns in front of a huge no-left-turn sign? Who ride motorcycles without helmets? Who collect bribes and protection money? How about rich kids and influential people who can get away with almost anything because of their connections? How about government officials thinking of one scheme or the other to victimize innocent people? Laglag-bala anyone?
It was only when I came back to live in Davao when I saw the huge disparity between here and there. Here, I am not afraid of being stopped by policemen for trumped-up charges. Here, policemen follow traffic rules and they wear helmets. Here, even the mayor’s son or daughter was ticketed for breaking the speed limit. Even the mayor was ticketed for not wearing a helmet.
No, I do not agree with Duterte’s every move and action, but I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt because of the results I see in my city, where law and order are more obviously followed than elsewhere in the country.
Duterte did not bring a culture of impunity. It has been there all along, but it has always favored the rich and powerful so they have kept quiet about it. Now that their cages are being rattled, they are feeling fear, perhaps for the very first time.
Originally published in Sunstar Davao.