OPINION: Duterte’s overseas fans erupt with rage as police scandal taints anti-crime stance

Inday Espina-Varona

Posted at Oct 07 2019 11:15 PM

As President Rodrigo Duterte’s rough posture on crime and drugs unravel with a scandal over police allegedly recycling hundreds of millions of pesos worth of confiscated narcotics, his overseas supporters have erupted in rage.

Their target: the mothers of the fallen in Duterte’s “war” and activist actress Mae Paner, who is on a 6-city European road show for “Tao Po.” The searing play of monologues portrays widows, orphans, a photojournalist, and a police killer coming to terms with the bloodletting that started just before Duterte, former Davao City mayor, assumed the land’s most powerful office. 

The attacks started even before Paner departed for Europe. At an Iceland forum, die-hard Duterte supporters screamed at Marissa Lazaro, interrupting her narration of her son’s death in the hands of police officers.

SCREAMING AT SURVIVORS

“Stop dramatizing!” a man shouted in an audio recording provided by an Iceland church worker.

The hosts could not believe their ears. “How can you say that?” asked an aghast citizen at the foreign worker. “She is a grieving mother.”

Another reminded the taunting group that the purpose of the forum was to listen to firsthand accounts. “We are listening,” an angry voice replied. “But they are twisting everything.”

It is hard to twist anything in Lazaro’s narrative, which is part of a packet of cases that are now with International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutors. Lazaro lost her son, 20-year old Christopher in 2017.

“The police claimed they were responding to a hold-up alert. They said my son ran off when they tried to stop him at a checkpoint. They gave chase and then he fired shots at them, forcing them to shoot back,” Lazaro said in an interview before the trip.

But while she was following up the case, she stumbled on a photo that showed police hauling off a handcuffed Christopher. “How could he have fought back the way they said he did, when they had his wrists wrapped in iron?”

Duterte pulled the Philippines out of the ICC in March 2018 after prosecutors said they would initiate a preliminary examination of alleged crimes against humanity under his war on drugs.  

Lazaro and more than half a dozen kin of people slain by cops, and the faith-based anti-EJK network Rise Up for Life and Rights, have sent the cases to the ICC. Duterte also faces a separate complaint over his supposed role in the alleged death squad killings in Davao City, where he ruled as mayor for over 2 decades.

The group that hounded Lazaro uploaded their video on social media in violation of Iceland’s tough rules against invasion of privacy and hate speech. They have been reported to authorities, sources say.

WHIFF OF DESPERATION

Lazaro met up with Paner after Iceland. As new scandals break out in the Philippines, casting doubts on long-held beliefs by Duterte supporters, they are breaking out in garbled messages of hate.

A woman in a video recording on the Facebook page of a pro-Duterte group says government supporters in Rome, Italy should stop Paner from spreading lies about Duterte’s war on drugs. “Tao Po” will be shown at the Basilica di San Silvestro in Capite Piazza on Oct. 10.

The woman calls Paner a communist and supporter of the New People’s Army (NPA). The claim has friends of the actress chortling; Paner’s favorite word, self-coined, is “LOVEan.”

Paner’s attacker says only people who fight back end up dead—ignoring that more than 50 children have been killed, including Kian de los Santos, seen being dragged by cops through alleys, and several others who couldn’t have shot it out because they had already been thrown in jail.

For all the woman’s convoluted logic, which includes claiming that deaths from diabetes have been lumped with cases of summary killings, her motives are deadly.

At one point, jumping to human rights non-government groups speaking up for besieged indigenous groups, she says: “Sila ay dapat nang patayin. They cannot do anything good for our millennials.”

On a different thread, another group discusses various ways to attack Paner’s group. “Throw her into the Tevere (the Tiber),” says one, as if to imitate Philippine death squads who sometimes dump their victims on waterways.

The woman in the video implores her audience, most probably Italy-based Filipinos, not to patronize the play, which has shown to full houses in Geneva and Amsterdam. In Tagalog, she says, “We must not accept their invitation (to watch and engage dialogue in the talkback after the play). We will end up believing them.”

And there lies their problem. 

Several overseas Filipinos, initially ambivalent about Paner’s play, have come out of the theater with eyes red from weeping, but not before hugging Lazaro and Katherine Bautista, whose son was also killed by cops.

It is easy to hurl curses and engage in ad hominem arguments on social media. Millions of pesos have been earned by marketers pushing pro-Duterte pages, many now deleted for using bots and various fake identities to exaggerate their reach.

It takes a callous heart to remain unmoved when Bautista and Lazaro narrate how they lost their sons, and when they wield the verbal equivalents of scalpels to shred the police’s “nanlaban” claims.

In Bautista’s case, police returned her stepson’s cannibalized motorcycle 3 days into his wake and, several times, offered settlements for the killing. When the family refused, masked men started going around their community, even as officials fended off their requests for case documents.

SCANDALS GALORE

Duterte’s social media “influencers” in the Philippines are fanning the frenzy because of the need to divert attention from a scandal involving the president’s top men against narcotics.

A Senate probe exposed claims that police national Director-General Oscar Albayalde had lobbied in 2016 to prevent the dismissal of cops found to have kept the bulk of a 168-kilogram seizure of shabu in 2013. The men had served under Albayalde during his stint as head of the Pampanga provincial police office. 

Former Criminal and Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) head and now Baguio City mayor Benjamin Magalong said Albayalde’s cops had turned over only 37 kilos.

A CIDG probe found that around 68 kilos had managed to disappear, with suspicion that cops had made a windfall of more than half a billion pesos from returning these to the streets. The officers also reportedly freed the drug lord in return for P50 million. 

Albayalde was relieved of his post but later appointed by Duterte in 2016 to head the National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO), where most of the 6,000 drug war killings by police officers have occurred. 

In that post, Albayalde lobbied then Central Luzon regional police chief Aaron Aquino to delay acting on a motion for reconsideration on dismissal orders against the rogue cops.

Aquino, now head of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), admitted acceding to Albayalde’s lobby and sending the erring cops to Mindanao, the president’s home island.

Aquino had earlier exposed the disappearance of several billions worth of shabu smuggled out of Customs of Bureau-bonded warehouses in magnetic lifters. He said the drugs could also have ended up in distribution in Mindanao, which has been under martial law since May 23, 2017. 

IDOL WITH CLAY FEET

Ten percent of the Philippines’ 104 million population are scattered across the globe, working to free families from poverty. Many support of Duterte’s mailed fist approach to social problems, believing his mantra that drug users are vermin and that anyone killed deserves the fate.

It must be scary to be confronted with the huge gaps between his anti-crime and anti-corruption postures and reality. Duterte is reluctant to sack Albayalde, insisting he gets the due process withheld from poor drug suspects.

He also refused to punish Customs officials responsible for a 2017 P6.4-billion shabu shipment that also got past Customs. Instead, he assigned the officers to senior posts in agencies handling airport security.

He later appointed Nicanor Faeldon to the Bureau of Corrections, where the latter signed release orders for good behavior covering convicts in high-profile cases like rape, with at least 2 Chinese drug lords getting released.

Paner says she tries to remain compassionate despite the attacks. “They suffer a lot for their families. They saw Duterte as their and the country’s savior.”

It is frightening to see foreign states and multilateral bodies like the UN Human Rights Council openly questioning the “nanlaban” claim, bitter pills for people who openly call Duterte “Father.”

“They are being pitted against their fellow poor,” Paner notes. “They get their news from social media and the government has spent a lot to spread lies.”

“But we cannot be frightened away from standing for the truth,” says the actress. “We stand for humanity and I will always welcome dialogue from anyone.”

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.