Tag Archives: Davao Death Squad

Column: Becoming blind

Published today, April 4, 2017 — but in a different time zone, and in a different frame of mind.

I find the phenomenon of willful blindness in the Duterte era vexing, and would like to take a closer look. To begin: There are degrees of not seeing.

Some are born truly sightless, or qualify as legally blind. Different institutions would have different definitions for legal blindness, but I think the nontechnical phrasing used in Merriam-Webster comes close to a common basis: “having less than 1/10 of normal vision in the more efficient eye when refractive defects are fully corrected by lenses.” (That means that seriously visually impaired people who can see well enough to drive with the help of corrective lenses are not, in fact, legally blind—a common misconception.)

Some are blind because they are unable, or unwilling, to question what they see. Continue reading

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Column: Destabilization? Opposition can’t even unite

“Criticism of the President is not destabilization.” Published on March 14, 2017.

A concerted campaign to destabilize the Duterte presidency exists—but only in the opportunistic minds of political entrepreneurs like Sandra Cam or the anxious imaginations of political virgins like the President’s diehard devotees. I can also include the likes of the smart, articulate political veteran Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, whose fortunes now depend completely on his erstwhile running mate.

They have one thing in common: no real power in the Duterte administration, only access or the promise of access to the inner circle. Continue reading

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Column: Pacquiao misunderstands ‘spiritual renewal’

Pastor Manny Pacquiao takes center stage, again. Published on March 7, 2017.

Yesterday, in the middle of the afternoon, the following trended on Twitter: #DDSBigReveal, Lascañas, Senate, Manny Pacquiao, Davao Death Squad, and Spiritual Renewal. The six trends were all related to the Senate hearing conducted by the committee on public order to assess retired policeman Arturo Lascañas’ dramatic accusations against President Duterte.

The last, in particular, referred to the witness’ explanation for changing his testimony. Last October, before the Senate committee on justice, he denied the existence of the Davao Death Squad. It was just “media hype,” he said. On Feb. 20, at a news conference in the Senate, and then yesterday, under oath a second time, he said he had been forced to lie the first time because his family’s safety had not yet been secured, but that he really wanted to tell the nation what he knows about Mr. Duterte’s alleged personal liquidation squad because of a “spiritual renewal.”

I can understand why several senators questioned Lascañas’ conversion story. (I use “conversion” here to mean, not a moving from one religion or denomination to another, but rather a turning—that’s the root of the word—from one path to another.) It goes to the issue of motivation. Why change one’s mind, and perjure one’s self? The senators are right in assuming that neither should be taken lightly. Lascañas does have some serious explaining to do.

But I think one reason “spiritual renewal” trended on Twitter yesterday is people reacted to the narrow view some of the senators held about that religious experience. Continue reading

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Column: Human rights defenders are beautiful

Published on November 1, 2016.

Last week, fresh from his triumphant visit to Japan, President Duterte revealed, among other things, that God had talked to him about his cussing; but then he also let his disdain for human rights advocates slip out again. In one of those stream-of-consciousness free associations that punctuate his unscripted remarks, during his post-arrival news conference the President complimented the latest Filipino beauty queen, Miss International Kylie Verzosa, and then added a gratuitous insult.

Let me use ABS-CBN’s more complete version (but with my translation): “Of course, I am happy. I am always happy if our beautiful women win all the titles. Kasi Pilipino tayo [Because we are Filipino], it gives us konting hambog (a little to brag about). It lifts the [spirit.] Parang mayabang tayo. Kita mo, magaganda mga Pilipina [Like, we can be proud. You see, Filipinas are beautiful],” Mr. Duterte said. Then he said: “Pero kayong lahat diyan sa human rights commission, mga pangit (But all of you there at the Commission on Human Rights, you are all ugly).”

The President was his usual bantering self, and the unexpected punchline had many people laughing, but it is a mistake to think that he was also not dead earnest. Since the CHR, under then chair Leila de Lima, investigated him in 2009 for possible human rights violations in relation to the killings attributed to the so-called Davao Death Squad, he has harbored a sense of resentment against the constitutional agency. Continue reading

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Column: Pacquiao, Matobato, and the science of memory

Published on October 4, 2016.

I HAPPENED to be in the Senate’s main session hall when Sen. Manny Pacquiao questioned the controversial witness and self-described Davao Death Squad hitman Edgar Matobato on Sept. 22. I had a ringside seat to what Sen. Ping Lacson later called “a splendid interpellation.” The chair of the committee on justice and human rights, Sen. Dick Gordon, was also effusive in his praise.

What, exactly, did the eight-time world boxing champion do?

Pacquiao managed to entrap Matobato in a web of the witness’ own making. He began with a seemingly tangential question. What is your basis for trusting a person? he asked Matobato, in Bisaya (which Sen. Migz Zubiri then translated, in English, for the benefit of the rest of the committee).

If he’s a good man, Matobato replied, in Bisaya.

What are the other reasons that would make you trust a person, or make you believe him? Pacquiao asked in Filipino.

If he treats me well, the witness replied.

If a person keeps changing his word, would we still trust him? Pacquiao asked. Continue reading

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Column: Understanding Duterte: 40 theses

Published on August 9, 2016.

  1. IT IS a mistake to think of President Duterte as Donald Trump without the orange skin and the ridiculous hair.
  1. He is not only not a bigot, as he himself said; he also has real, quantifiable achievements in his two decades as Davao City mayor.
  1. Even Mr. Duterte’s bitterest critics will not deny these achievements. They may argue about scope and impact, but accept these feats.
  1. In contrast, Trump has built a reputation and created wealth based largely on deception: the shady deal, the lease of his name, the scam.
  1. To be sure, the Duterte record is shadowed by the killings in Davao City, often attributed to the Davao Death Squad.

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Column: Duterte and the coming bloodbath

Published on May 24, 2016.

ON NOV. 16, 1999, President Joseph Estrada appointed his then-favorite policeman, Director Panfilo Lacson, as the new chief of the Philippine National Police. The next day, the special operations group that Lacson led before his appointment, the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force, killed eight men in Fairview, Quezon City, in what some witnesses called a “rubout.” Seven of the dead were later identified as suspected robbers; the eighth, a civilian bystander, was later reported to be the alleged mastermind of the robbery gang.

It was an arresting start to a controversial (and, as it turned out, abbreviated) term. For many, the spectacular violence was seen as precisely a violent spectacle, staged to strike fear among criminals.

Three renowned lawyers immediately raised the alarm. (I quote from an Inquirer editorial written some 10 years after the event.)

“Sen. Raul Roco told a news conference: ‘Lacson must be made to explain: Why, on your second day, did seven people die? How many will die on the third day? What are your projected plans on the 14th day?’

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