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What’s the cover up in mass executions?

HONG KONG (SE): As Indonesian government guns were aimed at 14 people found guilty of drug related crimes and their lifeless bodies slumped to the ground at midnight on July 28, Father Antonius Benny Susetyo was asking what the drive to execute aims to cover up.

The secretary of the Setara Institute for Democracy in Jakarta pointed to testimony given by Fredi Budiman, who fell before the guns at the hour where this life morphed into the next.

He had told rights advocate, Haris Azhar, he had been aided and abetted in his drug racket by the National Narcotics Agency, as well as the National Police and Indonesian Military personnel.

UCAN reported Father Susetyo as pointing out that what Azhar says strengthens the already deep-seated suspicion that the death penalty is being used to protect drug lords, as it is only applied to the intermediaries and never what could be termed the Mr. Bigs.

The same question could well be asked about the mad push by the newly-elected president of The Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, to kill, kill, kill, as among the almost 650 bodies he takes credit for, as well as the estimated 180 liquated by private enterprise, not one Mr. Big can be found.

In all probability private enterprise is responsible for a much higher number, as small townships in Zamboanga del Sur have recently been reporting between five and 10 summary executions a week.

“It is frightening. I hear the guns outside—bang, bang, bang—and the noise, shouting and screaming,” a message received on August 4 says.

One message adds that the criteria for choosing victims seems erratic, as although some of the people have been involved in drugs, locals say they know others have not.

However, like his Indonesian counterpart, Duterte discriminates. Billionaire businessman, Peter Lim, was granted a face-to-face audience with the president to be warned to get out of drugs or face the consequences. Lim denied involvement and still walks around.

Rolando Espiñosa, the mayor of Albuera in Leyte, an area which did not support Duterte in his push for the presidency, was publicly warned that the guns would be out for him unless he surrendered, which he did on August 3.

Six of the mayor’s henchmen died in a shootout during what was described as an investigation.

However, Michael Siaron, a humble man who spent his days pushing a pedicab around Manila, was given no such warning or afforded no such investigation.

The Associated Press reported that his body was found on the street with the telltale cardboard proclaiming he was a drug pusher.

But his wife, Jennilyn Olayres, described him as a good man who put three meals on the table every day. Although she admitted that he did take the odd pep pill to relieve the tedium of his backbreaking work, she is adamant that he was never a pusher or involved in selling or delivering drugs.

No doubt his supplier was taking out insurance against him being picked up and squealing. But his real crime may have been being poor, as in the harsh culture of The Philippines the poor do not get second chances.

Voices outside the country have been brave. Phelim Kine, Asian deputy director of Human Rights Watch, said, “International drug control agencies need to make clear to Philippine President Roderigo Duterte that the surge in killings of suspected drug dealers and users is not acceptable crime control, but instead a government failure to protect people’s most fundamental human rights.”

Critical voices in The Philippines are hard to find. The courageous former secretary of the Human Rights Commission and current member of the senate, Leila de Lima, is an exception.

In condemning what she called “do-it-yourself justice” during a speech in the senate, de Lima said, “We must call for the accountability of state actors responsible for this terrifying trend in law enforcement and the investigation of killings perpetrated by the vigilante assassins.”

For her trouble, de Lima received a mouth full of expletive-laden abuse from the president, in much the same tone that he told the bishops to shut up back in May, which they have mostly done.

Although the archbishop of Manila, Luis Cardinal Tagle, and the former king-maker from Cebu, Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, joined a fan of Duterte from Davao, Archbishop Romulo Valles, in a courtesy call to the president on July 25, the bishops seem to be lost in what is admittedly a complex situation.

By and large, they have done the only thing the majority of the population can do, watch and see how Duterte unfolds while they count the body bags.

Officially they have adopted a policy of critical collaboration, which to date can only be described as more collaborative than critical, as they seem not able to make a sharp Christian critique or speak with a prophetic voice in the midst of the mass slaughter being perpetrated in the country.

The one public Church-organised protest against the killings, a small rally outside the offices of the Human Rights Commission and a Mass at Adamson University on July 25, got good press in the secular media, but no mention on the news service of the Philippine bishops, despite the fact that the man behind both events was Bishop Broderick Pabillo.

Duterte has convinced the nation that what is needed at the top is a strongman and he images himself as the epitome of the benevolent dictator.

His huge majority vote has given him a foothold on democracy that allows him to govern like a martial law president.

His constitutional legitimacy gives him much in common with his counterpart in Beijing, with whom he is supposedly at loggerheads over the West Philippine or South China Sea, but it is no surprise that China has given its wholehearted support to his blood-letting campaign.

While the benevolent policies on mining, workers’ rights and cleaning up the public service Duterte has outlined would certainly bring much benefit to the country, it remains to be seen whether he can pull them off or not.

It is a big ask, as societal structures are corrupt to the core with crime deeply embedded at every echelon of human activity. In addition, the electorate can be fickle and any failure to deliver may be a fatal slip from the tightrope he has strung across the nation.

But like any Philippine president he is beholden to many people. His State of the Nation Address hinted at who some of them are, as their sins did not rate a mention nor did the huge problems they create.

Duterte knows from his experience that the random murder of the poor, or culling of the odd mayor or police officer will not solve the drug problem, so what is being covered up by this murderous campaign?

If as the Australian Broadcasting Corporation suggests, the choice of victims for the executioners’ bullets in Indonesia is a soap opera, the only word to describe Duterte’s maybe a circus.

But for a man beholden to many people, including at least three former presidents, Joseph Estrada, Fidel Ramos and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, on top of an ambiguous relationship with the Marcos family, a fair question to ask is, “What is the execution circus covering up?”

The people may have the circus they voted for, even if not the bread, but this is at least as valid a question for The Philippines as the one being asked by Father Susetyo about the soap opera in Jakarta.

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