LETTERS FROM DAVAO
By Jun Ledesma
WHEN Agnes Callamard took over the job of Philip Alston as Special Rapporteur of the United Nations Human Rights Commission who conducted a probe on alleged extra-judicial killings in Davao City, she inherited the tale conjured by her predecessor like it was the biblical truth. In fact, Alston came to Davao like a thief in the night conducted interviews of alleged victims of human rights violations who were herded by members human rights non-government organizations to the posh Marco Polo Hotel where he was billeted. In our local parlance, we call it “table survey”.
This came close to the probe of the Philippine Human Rights Commission chairperson Leila de Lima (now Senator but detained by the Court for her alleged role in the flourishing drug distribution ring in the country’s primary penal colony) who spent nearly five months in a free-wheeling investigation, grilling and searching for remains of EJK victims buried in common graves but ended up with nothing. Thirty years had elapsed after the Alston made his report to the UN and changes in the chairmanship of CHR in the Philippines, the so-called human rights watchdogs have yet to produce a single piece of evidence to prove their allegations of EJK victims and common burial grounds.
The reasons are so explicit but the rapporteurs cannot accept the fact that they had been taken for a ride. The EJK issue was political black propaganda. The political adversary of Pres. Rodrigo Roa Duterte, who was Davao City Mayor then, wanted to unseat him and conjured the EJK tale. They claimed that Duterte organized the Davao Death Squad (DDS) when in fact DDS was a ghost force conceptualized by Integrated National Police Regional Director Dionisio Tan-gatue Jr. as psychological warfare to counter the vicious “ Sparrows”, the liquidation squad of the communists New Peoples Army. Duterte then was a fledgling lawyer. The UNCHR and pan-handling HRW NGOs conveniently skirted a historical fact that Davao City and its environs were then in virtual control of the NPAs and its reign of terror in the early 1980s. Nothing was said of the fact that once the City was dubbed as the killing fields in the Philippines, in obvious comparison to Cambodia's genocide, when not a day passes without eight to 15 people liquidated.
Why HRW and even Amnesty International were quiet over the dark days of Davao simply proved their ignorance and indifference to what was happening in Davao then. The sad part of it all is that the local HRWs ignored that Davao City freed itself from the clutches of the communist regime in an overnight people uprising dubbed as “alsa masa” and that what crept into the city after the bloody rule of the NPAs ended were drug syndicates. And here lies the beginning of the new scourge and the start of government war against drugs.
Meth crystals locally known as shabu were peddled openly in the streets and university campuses in Davao in the mid-1980s victimizing students into addiction. When Duterte became Mayor in 1988 he waged a campaign against the proliferation of drugs in the City. Rotary Clubs and other civic organizations conducted lectures against the ill-effects of shabu but these did not stop the syndicates. Later the national government anti-drug enforcement agency came up with a list of suspects and this led to the liquidation of drug pushers. Investigators attributed this to the frantic move of drug lords to eliminate the traces that would lead to their identity. The death toll reached almost 300 victims. It is was rather sad because some minors inveigled by the syndicates to peddle drugs were among the victims. The parents of these children were among those brought by the local human rights watchdogs to Philip Alston and to CHR Chair de Lima. These victims of drugs atrocities were all accounted for and nothing was kept a secret from the public.
But the drug syndicates were not deterred. Davao is comparatively developed and economically progressive and lured undocumented Chinese nationals to establish a drug laboratory just about 10 kilometers away from city hall. Another big-time supplier of shabu from Lanao and Ozamiz City also peddled drugs in Davao. Duterte himself led the raid of the shabu lab resulting in the death of Chinese chemists. An ambulance from Lanao loaded with shabu was also intercepted by police operatives. The mayor took his drug war beyond the city borders and confronted politicians suspected of drug distribution in the city to stop.
The problem with Agnes Callamard is that she believed the story of Duterte’s political nemeses and dye-in-the-wool Duterte critics. Add to that the extrapolated and freewheeling estimates of human rights watchdogs and foreign-funded media outfits among them Rappler and Vera Files.
It is important to take note that Leila de Lima was appointed later by then Pres. Benigno Aquino III as Secretary of the Department of Justice. In her stead, Aquino named a human rights activist Etta Rosales to Chair CHR. During her stint as DOJ chief De Lima and Rosales continued hounding Duterte. But The Justice Secretary whose office oversees the Bureau of Correction penitentiary was disgracefully into a scandalous dalliance with high profile inmates convicted of drug cases.
Before the affairs took the country by the storm, Secretary de Lima was elected as a member of the Philippine Senate. On the other hand, her pet peeve, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte won overwhelmingly as President on two important agenda: wage an unrelenting war against the drug syndicates and addressing corruption which was institutionalized by the Aquino administration which, just recently, New York Times described Aquino himself as ”lazy and weak”.
Despite the changes in their political status, she continued with her consuming goal to pin Duterte on EJK and DDS. This time she was not alone. Sen. Antonio Trillanes who had earlier sought Presidential candidate Duterte to be his running mate but was spurned joined De Lima in demonizing him. The duo had recruited a self-confessed hitman Edgar Matobato to stand as a witness against the President. The trigger man claimed that he himself killed over 200 and added that he took part in the burial of some 1,200 EJK victims in a common grave in an abandoned quarry they must have forgotten was so near several subdivisions.
But there were reversals in Senator de Lima’s political fortunes. While she and Trillanes were contriving to implicate Duterte on EJK members of the Lower House were taking turns in investigating inmates who confessed to having a liaison with the lady senator and in a shocking revelation financially helped her in her senatorial bid. In time she finally admitted to steamy affairs in what she described as the frailty of a woman. With the preponderance of incriminating confessions, the Senator was ordered detained by a Regional Trial Court where the information was filed against her for her involvement in the drug trade that is managed from inside the penitentiary. Some European legislators and human rights activists denounced her incarceration which they claimed was political harassment, but the trial court won’t listen.
Callamard was obsessed as de Lima and Trillanes in sending Duterte to the calaboose. In May 2017, she broke protocol by sneaking to the Philippines on the invitation of human rights activists and lawyers. She brought along with her an alleged doctor of medicine who declared that shabu is not hazardous. Duterte chastised her for ignorance and in a feat of anger threaten to slap her for not knowing that meth is in the list of UN as a dangerous drug. A simple Google search would prove Duterte right.
In her recent tirade against Duterte and the Philippines, Callamard took another jab at the President by inveigling what she describes as human rights experts to investigate human rights abuses and extra-judicial killings targeting political oppositions. This time she raised the figures of EJK victims to 27,000 a meteoric statistics which Ma. Ressa of Rappler had bannered in international fora to win awards. As if in concert, Philippine Vice President Leni Robredo, the leader of the moribund opposition who is still hurting from the defeat of LP candidates, issued a statement to stop targeting children and the poor in the drug campaign.
The recent public confession of a central figure used by the political opposition to turning the table on the President’s family on drug issues had provided answers why and how Matobato was not mincing words in spewing lies against Duterte on EJK. Peter J. Advincula who played the hooded “Bikoy” in a 3-episode “Ang Totoong Narcolist” (The True Narcolist) that implicated members of Duterte family (including her 13-year old daughter Veronica) and trusted Executive Assistant now Sen. Christopher “Bong” Go to the drug syndicate. The video clips which were aired on Facebook at the height of the midterm elections in the Philippines were meant to erode the credibility of Duterte as a principal endorser of the administration senatorial candidates. Advincula said the black propaganda was part of “Project Sodoma” that would discredit the administration and boost the chances of the opposition senatorial bets to win in the May 13 elections.
The unprecedented 81% satisfactory rating of the President, however, was never affected by the black propaganda. The opposition Liberal Party which had fielded eight candidates under the banner “Otso Deretso” were wiped out including their best bets Bam Aquino and Mar Roxas. Ten of the 12 senate seats went to the administration- backed candidates that include Bong Go, former top cop Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, the chief enforcer of Duterte’s drug campaign and Imee Marcos, the daughter of the late Pres. Ferdinand Marcos. Two other seats went to independent senators who sought re-election: Grace Poe, an adopted daughter of the late screen hero Fernando Poe and Nancy Binay, daughter of former Vice President Jejomar Binay.
In his televised interview with the media, Peter J. Advincula revealed that he was recruited by Jesuit Priest whom he identified as Fr. Bert Alejo. It was Alejo who, he said, brought him to Sen. Antonio Trillanes. Advincula casually mentioned that the same priest brought Matobato to Trillanes. The revelation of Advincula alias “Bikoy” also implicated some members of the Catholic Bishop of the Philippines. Trillanes and some bishops had admitted meeting with Advincula. The group, he said met with him several times to coach him on what to say against President Duterte. He said that in the Project Sodoma Senator Trillanes was identified only as alias “Stella”.
The desperate moves of the opposition to discredit Duterte and cast aspersion on his family and his administration have just started to unravel in the media and on TV in living colors. Figures, not coming from his government but from outside sources. Standard & Poors placed the Philippines in the rolls of “Investment Grade” countries with bbb+ rating, independent surveys done by the Social Weather Station consistently placed President Duterte Trust rating in the excellent category. Of late, Oxford economics ranked the Philippines 2nd among the 10 emerging economies in the world in the next 10 years. It predicts that the country will be “the fastest growing economies sooner than later”.
For a country described by UN Rapporteur Agnes Callamard as oppressive of political oppositions and violative of human rights, these few accolades eloquently argue for Duterte and make his malefactors impish prevaricators. Callamard included.
About the Columnist
Mr. Jun Ledesma is a community journalist who writes from Davao City and comments from the perspective of a Mindanaoan.