Column: Why Duterte is defending Marcos

Only one conclusion makes sense. Published on July 18, 2017.

I have nothing against the senators who dined with President Duterte earlier this year; those who castigate them, essentially for showing up for dinner, have forgotten the role of the two political branches in our system of government. It would be a real scandal if the President dined with justices of the Supreme Court alone; recent history tells us that the illegal consultations Ferdinand Marcos sought with members of the Court built the constitutional foundations of his authoritarian regime. But lawmakers are supposed to work with the Executive—that is how our system is meant to function, especially when the senators belong to the administration majority.

I also do not understand the absolutist position that critics of the majority take when administration-aligned lawmakers express their outrage or their disgust over the reinstatement of Supt. Marvin Marcos. Sen. Ping Lacson, for instance, gave vent to his frustration over the special treatment for Marcos, the police colonel who oversaw the execution of Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa inside a Leyte subprovincial jail last November, by resorting publicly to President Duterte’s favorite expletive. But some of the feedback he got from social media took him to task for enabling the President in the first place — without so much as an acknowledgement that this key player in the Senate majority is now on a collision course with the President.

Politics is addition, and the more voices we hear condemning the extrajudicial killing of a politician by police officers, the better.

I do not mean to suggest that Lacson, or the other senators who took offense at Marcos’ reinstatement, like Dick Gordon, will necessarily follow that course to its conclusion. But if we want them to, we should provide encouragement. They need it.

Because only one conclusion makes sense.

Last December, the National Bureau of Investigation found that the killing of Espinosa (and of Raul Yap, who shared his detention cell) was “a rubout. Our findings show there was no shootout between Mayor Espinosa and the policemen.” This finding was reached through at least four routes: proof that the search warrant used to justify the police raid was obtained through false pretenses; CCTV footage that showed the policemen arriving at the jail at 3:05 a.m., not at 4:10 a.m., as they had testified; the revealing testimony of at least three witnesses; not least, forensic evidence that no shots were fired at the door to the cell, where the police officers were supposed to have massed during the shootout.

Last March, two Senate committees found that Espinosa was deliberately silenced by “individuals who wanted their participation [in an illegal drugs syndicate] concealed.”

There’s more: “What is more appalling was the fact that the jail guards as well as the PNP personnel, assigned to ensure the safety of Mayor Espinosa, were disarmed and made to kneel down and face the wall for the entire duration of the operation even after Mayor Espinosa and Yap were killed.”

But the President has Marcos’ back; after the Senate released its report, he responded: “I do not care. I will insist on the truthfulness of the police, period. And I will defend them.” He certainly has. He revoked the original order relieving Marcos and his men; he continues to assert, not that they were innocent, but that they were merely doing their duty; he caused the reinstatement of Marcos himself to Region XII.

And in fact he said in public that he wanted Espinosa, an alleged drug lord, shot “on sight.”

That’s the only conclusion that makes sense: President Duterte ordered Superintendent Marcos to execute Espinosa. He and his men complied (with a mixture of casual cruelty and incompetence). That is why the President continues to defend them.

***

I will write about the fifth World Justice Forum held at The Hague last week in my Newsstand blog; just one quick note. A statement from Andrew Mambondiyani, a journalist from Zimbabwe, is probably what some delegates will remember best. Responding to concerns about the exercise of free speech under Robert Mugabe’s dictatorship, he began his reply with a quip: Oh, we have freedom of expression in Zimbabwe, he said. “The problem is, will you still have freedom after expression?”

We all laughed out loud, but his point was sharp and clear.

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