Understanding President Duterte #1: Trial by NPA
In referring to a Philippine National Police (PNP) officer [police chief of Gov. Generoso, Davao Oriental] held by the New People’s Army (NPA), President Elect Duterte is reported to have said:
“I’m sorry for that guy. I leave his fate to the NPA”, Duterte said. Duterte also said the NPA should try Olgachen in its revolutionary courts and sentence him to 10 years of hard labor. [Duterte tells NPA: Try captive cop; Inquirer] [Duterte: Captive cop chief’s fate up to NPA; Philstar]
The purported situation as explained by NPA representatives is that the PNP officer was found to have a packet of drugs (shabu) in his possession.
Now this is an exceptional statement by the President Elect because it appears to promote extra-judicial punishment by an armed element of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) which is engaging in acts that are clearly illegal. The Mayor has not yet been sworn in as President and is acting as either a private citizen or the Mayor of Davao City. That adds to the peculiarity of the moment.
Let me list some statements, rather as a quick briefing on the various elements of context and fact pertaining to this situation:
- Mayor Duterte is President Elect and has no official position with the national government. He has taken no oath.
- The NPA was delisted as a terrorist organization by the Philippine government when peace talks were initiated with the Aquino Administration in 2011. The group is still branded as a terrorist organization by the United States and European Union.
- The NPA conducts illegal acts, including kidnapping for ransom, extortion (“taxation”), and destruction of properties (utility towers; buses). The group engages in deadly armed conflict with Philippine police and armed forces.
- As a private citizen of the Philippines, Mayor Duterte has full right of free speech.
- The Mayor’s speech carries a certain exceptional weight because he is the incoming president. Therefore, many would expect him to demonstrate a certain exceptional responsibility when speaking. It is possible that the NPA will view the comments as having actual authority, or sanction, for the trial of a private citizen outside the courts of the land.
- There is no provision in the Constitution for such an extra-judicial act.
- We don’t know if the PNP officer had drugs, or if the drugs were planted, or if he would be found innocent or guilty in an actual court of law.
- It is possible that rank and file PNP officers will have great concern about the Mayor’s statements as there is no assurance if they are also caught in a compromised position, real or mocked up. The PNP, as an official organization, would be seen to have left the captured man behind (PNP officials have stated they will continue their efforts to free the man from captivity.]
- PNP officers are open to extortion in the future if copycat abductions are carried out.
- The incoming Head of the PNP has vowed to execute the will of President Elect Duterte.
- There is a potential for conflict within the ranks of the PNP if the new chief is seen as not supporting his troops.
- Voters elected Mayor Duterte to the presidency fairly and legally, and with a clear mandate to “change” things.
- The PNP has primary responsibility for investigating criminal incidents by PNP officers, and recommending and carrying out punishments, via its Police Board. If the police officer were to be investigated for drug offenses, it would fall to the PNP to investigate.
- The Office of the Ombudsman (OMB) has primary responsibility for investigating administrative crimes of public officials under various laws, including the Code of Conduct and Ethical standards [Memorandum of Agreement; pdf file]. If Mayor Duterte were in violation of the law, this would be within the purview of the OMB.
- President Elect Duterte has promised reconcilement and peace between the national government and CPP/NPA. He has offered cabinet secretarial positions to leftists recommended by the CPP. His opinion on the captured PNP officer can be seen as another conciliatory move aimed at peace.
- Mayor Duterte and his spokespeople have asked that we grant him the right to put in place the changes he wishes to make.
- There is no question that Mayor Duterte believes extra-judicial solutions can bring about change faster than working through the nation’s back logged, procedurally hidebound courts. We can confirm this through his own words.
- The dilemma for citizens is whether or not the gains from extra-judicial solutions, with increased probabilities of innocents bearing punishment, will be better than gains from slow justice through the courts. It seems (to me) that no one has the wisdom to make this decision and that anyone with an opinion is guessing.
- International human rights groups clearly frown on extra-judicial solutions. They have also been critical of the slow and politicized courts of the Philippine judiciary.
- President Elect Duterte expects us to give him the benefit of the doubt. Senators and others are generally giving endorsement to Mr. Duterte’s initiatives.
- Peace is not possible without granting concessions and respect to the NPA and CPP.
Given this background, what position do you recommend be taken?
- Wait and see what develops.
- Protest the Mayor’s statements; encourage the filing of charges against the mayor by the OMB.
- Advocate for speedy extra-judicial solutions. Support his initiatives.
Or is there some other position you think would be best?