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Philippines

Dark lord, dark times

Duterte will most like ignore all lessons about deadly abuse breeding more discontent

Inday Espina-Varona, Manila

Inday Espina-Varona, Manila

Updated: April 05, 2019 03:37 AM GMT
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Dark lord, dark times

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte wears body armour on a visit to a military camp. (Photo courtesy of Presidential Communications Office)

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Philippine authorities named the police operation that killed 14 farmers in Negros Oriental province on March 30 after the main villain of a classic literary fantasy series.

Operation Sauron takes inspiration from the wizard of necromancy in J.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.

Tolkien’s posthumously published book The Silmarillion describes Sauron as the chief lieutenant of the leader of "absolute satanic rebellion and evil" — the dark lord, Morgoth,

The macabre codename neatly fits into President Rodrigo Duterte’s chosen identity — a scourge to be feared, a ruthless leader whose word can mean death.

Police officers said they killed rebels who fired on arresting officers during the raids.

Numerous witnesses, including children, said the raids bore the hallmarks of the urban death orgies against alleged drug users and dealers wherein victims are presumed to have asked for it.

In Negros, officers stormed homes with faces covered and nameplates hidden. They segregated the targets from their families. They herded the relatives out at gunpoint and let them hear the shots that killed their loved ones, sometimes as they begged for mercy.

Following the weekend killings, Bishop Gerardo Alminaza of San Carlos Diocese in the central Philippines demanded a probe

He noted "highly irregular" aspects of the simultaneous raids across the city of Canlaon and two other towns. Warrants were seldom shown, officers destroyed property, including the fences and doors of houses.

There’s little chance Duterte will heed the bishop's call.

The former mayor of Davao in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao won the presidency with 16 million votes with a promise to rid the country of crime and terror by snuffing out the lives of adherents.

He has reneged on many economic promises, but he has held firm to this dark pledge, egging on police to kill more in the name of a drug war with nothing to show but the blood of poor victims.

Duterte has refused any discourse on human rights. He has attacked politicians, rights workers and religious leaders who refuse to side with his deadly mission.

Police have passed the 5,000 mark in persons killed during their operations. More than twice that number have died from attacks by motorcycle-riding vigilantes, also linked to the police force.

Even Duterte’s supporters have become weary of the bloodshed. Surveys say Filipinos overwhelmingly want drug suspects taken alive.

There is also growing disillusionment over the huge holes in the drug war narrative: kid glove treatment given to the presidential son’s party pals linked to narcotics, and one of the country’s alleged biggest drug lords allowed to flee to safety abroad.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte tests a rifle on a visit to a military camp. (Photo courtesy of Presidential Communications Office)

 

Most recently, a rebellious police officer accused Duterte of ignoring reports linking his special economic adviser, Michael Yang, to a massive network that traded in and produced narcotics for decades.

Now Duterte has transferred the black arts of his drug war to beef up an anti-insurgency campaign. Again, the promise of blood, this time to dissuade supporter of communist guerrillas.

Over the last six months, Negros Island, the country’s fourth largest, has seen three massacres.

Armed men killed nine sugar cane workers camped on a disputed sugar estate in Sagay City, Negros Occidental, on Oct. 20, 2018. 

At least six farmers were killed on Dec. 27 in Guihulngan City and Santa Catalina, a town in Negros Oriental.

Human rights group Karapatan said state forces have killed 40 farmers in the two provinces since the start of Duterte’s rule nearly three years ago. That’s more than 22 percent of the total count of 180 in an archipelago of 81 provinces.

Negros, the Philippine sugar capital, is a land blessed with lush earth and cursed by economic extremes. It was a hotbed of rebellion under the Marcos dictatorship and the target of a "low-intensity conflict" by the administration that succeeded the dictator.

More than three decades after the 1986 people power uprising that restored democracy, Negros has reclaimed its infamy as a laboratory of war.

A detailed presentation on the primary tasks of a national anti-insurgency body created by Duterte last month stressed the uprooting of "white areas" or urban operations of the communist movement, with emphasis on legal democratic mass organizations, including militant political parties with several seats in Congress.

The words of the presentation, which we got hold of, seethe with resentment towards local and international human rights advocates — seen as enemies out to "paralyze the police power of the state."

The government believes it has pulled the Philippines out of the International Criminal Court’s reach, a move seen to free state forces for the kind of "extreme response" so beloved by Duterte.

The regime’s world view is clear: if you make life hell for activists at the outset, there will be little left to fill the ranks of the underground communist movement. 

Duterte will most like ignore all history lessons about abuse breeding more discontent. That could make him, according to Bishop Alminaza, "the best recruiter for the underground movement."

Inday Espina-Varona is editor and opinion writer for various publications in Manila.

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