A Culture of Impunity

Photo Credit: Beegee49 via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Beegee49 via Compfight cc

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.

Email me at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

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2 thoughts on “A Culture of Impunity”

  1. Hi Andy,

    I read your defense of Duterte’s policies which have showed up on this side of the world as so controversial, in ” A Culture of Impunity “and found it a thought-provoking perspective.

    Having lived in Davao for a few months, and living now in its antithesis, the big cities of the US, I of course ponder the differences between the societies and its causes, amazed by Duterte and his effectiveness at molding the society of Davao with its social beauty, marveling at the prospect as he takes on Manila, and it seems almost “primitive”, surely a way utilized in the pre-history of mankind, as unthinkable as it is in the modern US culture; surely we have to wonder at the downsides of our liberal society and ‘prison’ system, and their ineffectiveness at cultivating anything like the society of Davao; ‘primitive’ or ‘pre-historical’ or atleast pre-dating Western history.

    I was reminded of the situation while reading this section of a Daoist scripture – (“The Scripture of Boundless Universal Salvation”) –


    I realized that the drug addicts and pushers are being considered ‘demons’ by Duterte, dehumanized, the job any warrior does while preparing for battle.
    What of course would be fascinating would be to see an in-depth explication of Duterte’s philosophy – the development and future of mankind, the pitfalls of freedoms that are used so often in modern society here for self destruction, and when and where exactly in the human psyche the line is crossed where pure life is irretrievable, the situation irredeemable; it’s obvious that the western culture I live in now ignores that line, and it is used against society by the ‘demons’ that the line is ignored, but there is little or no discussion of that line that I know of, in this liberal society, humanist and liberal to a fault, ignoring the possibility of a philosophy like Duterte’s.
    Duterte’s philosophy is more in harmony with the Eastern mysticism of a Chinese Emperor than the profound individualism of the modern West, the mystic view that we are all one.

    The Eastern wisdom holds that we are all part of a single living thing, and hence the concern for the behavior and consequences of the actions of others – the whisper of beauty from Hegel’s “das tun aller und jeder” – the “doings of all and each” in a universal life, the Buddhist 一眞法界 “yī zhēn fǎ jiè” the “dharma realm of the one reality, the bhūtatathatā, complete in a speck of dust as in a universe”, and the Hindu सो ऽहम् “I am that”, the whisper about our wholeness and unity is everywhere, while the roar of modern Western culture tends to ignore the connection and wholeness, and treat the realm like it’s a coliseum of selves, each self acting in a reality show, trying to ‘win’ a game based on individual choices, ‘reason’ and ‘science’ paramount in a play about power they perform, with comfort and isolate subjective ‘happiness’ the scorecard in the game they play but is impossible to ‘win’.

    And though Hegel’s 19th century German idealism is based on a core of Eastern wisdom, he tells us that “no one will be wholly sacrificed on the altar of right, because they are all someone’s sister, brother, mother, father, son, or daughter”, and so paves the way for the radical individualism of modern times, the pure Eastern wisdom is more about transcendental unity, ignoring, as Duterte does, these individualistic qualms;

    Counterintuitive in modern culture , the transcendental view says it doesn’t matter if you’re alive or dead, what’s important is the grace and beauty and purity of the universe; there’s nothing to “get”, the subjectivity is the wrong place to look for fulfillment. Walking around the Bronx Zoo, I look around and realize, these animals understand, it’s not about personal subjectivity, no “splendor to get”, even though that’s what all the humans walking around are preaching; the place to look for the salvation in is transcendental, it’s the subjectivity of the universe itself, as a single, unified, living thing, and the animals that pursue and contribute to the salvation of the universe know this, ask them, they cast their own subjectivities aside yet work assiduously for the salvation of the universe, and what a beautiful thing it is.


  2. The Chinese document I tried to post there is here in text:

    From the Northern District (Bei Feng) comes the True Grand-Monarch (Zhen Wang)who orders all to obey the mission to sweep away all inauspiciousness concerning the Three Origins (San Yuan- Heaven Origin, Earth Origin, and Man Origin), and [one] is dropped back down along with these imperial instructions from the highest authorities, the extensive sheets to be spread out. Hovering in the air holding the Charms (Fu) they act for Beautiful-Jade Clarity (Yi Qing- the Highest of the Thirty-Six Heavens). It is their job to clear away the immoral things from all of the Ten Directions (Shi Fang- East South West North East-North East-South West-South West-North Upwards and Downwards), even to the ends of the boundaries regardless of their [supposed] margins. Coming with Wind and fire, the Eight rush forward into the clash to boldly make certain to carry out resistance, and gather together against [the forces of] hell using the Imperial Palace’s (Gong) fundamental truths. Rising up with force and spirit, shaking a twin-edged sword in the [broad] daylight to carry out punishment and torture, to massacre demons and evil spirits receiving them under arrest so that without cease, thousands and thousands are beheaded. All are exterminated that had taken the shape or entity of demon or monster. to test the [powers of] the Ghosts (Gui) regardless of the level of Supernatural times and events, because the Essence that is the Life-Force (Jing) has to [be maintained] at the level of Greatest Yin (Tai Yin). North of the Northern Capital (Bei Du) they go to check out and scrutinize [the area for any of the] worthless, stealthy ghosts. Seeking them out, these must not be allowed to idle about.

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