Pubdate: Sat, 13 Aug 2016
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2016 The New York Times Company
Author: Richard C. Paddock


MANILA - Samsudin Dimaukom, the mayor of a town in the southern 
Philippines, was watching television last Sunday after midnight when 
he was startled to hear the country's new president call out his name.

It was no honor. President Rodrigo Duterte was reading a list of more 
than 150 officials he said were involved in the illegal drug trade. 
He ordered Mr. Dimaukom and the others to turn themselves in within 
24 hours or be hunted down.

"We were really surprised when the president came out to announce 
it," Mr. Dimaukom, the mayor of Datu Saudi-Ampatuan, said by email. 
"Not once were we involved in drugs. In fact, we were fighting drugs. 
I support the president's drug war."

Since he took office six weeks ago, Mr. Duterte, 71, has roiled the 
nation with a violent war on drugs that has left hundreds dead, most 
of them poor and powerless.

This week, in what seemed to be a new phase, he took on judges and 
police generals, military officials, more than 50 mayors and local 
officials, and three men said to be current or former members of 
Congress. He stripped them of their weapons permits and, in some 
cases, their government security details, potentially leaving them 
vulnerable to vigilantes.

The escalation provoked a clash with the Supreme Court, nearly 
causing a constitutional crisis before Mr. Duterte backed down, and 
it has raised questions about the list, a McCarthyesque device of 
uncertain origin and unencumbered by evidence.

"How are the lists being prepared?" asked Senator Leila de Lima, a 
former justice secretary and former chairwoman of the Philippine 
Commission on Human Rights. "Who are the sources? If they have 
evidence, they should file charges, and that's the only time they 
should disclose the name."

But if anything, the campaign has made him only more popular. His 
approval ratings soared to 91 percent in July, according to a Pulse 
Asia poll, far higher than the 39 percent of the vote he received on 
Election Day in May. Even some people who have been killed by 
vigilantes were wearing red-and-blue "Duterte" wristbands when they 
were gunned down.

"He's doing what he promised," said Ramon Casiple, executive director 
of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform. "He's not 
surprising anybody. People like him because he is an action man."

Mr. Duterte, a combative former mayor and prosecutor, has repeatedly 
called for the killing of drug dealers, and an estimated 800 people 
have died at the hands of police or vigilantes since his election, 
officials say. Many were gunned down in the street and left with a 
cardboard sign identifying them as drug pushers. Such killings have 
become known as "cardboard justice."

More than 600,000 drug users and dealers, fearing for their lives, 
have turned themselves in, the authorities say. Most have been sent 
home after giving the police a statement and are likely to face 
investigation later.

But his clash with public officials has been less one-sided.

On Monday, Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno of the Supreme Court 
challenged the president over the seven judges on his list, telling 
them not to submit to arrest without a warrant. The court also 
announced that it would investigate any allegations of the judges' 
connection to the drug trade.

"To safeguard the role of the judges as the protector of 
constitutional rights, I would caution them very strongly against 
'surrendering' or making themselves physically accountable to any 
police officer in the absence of any duly-issued warrant of arrest," 
Justice Sereno wrote.

Mr. Duterte angrily warned her not to interfere with his campaign to 
bring an end to what he calls the "pandemic" drug problem in the Philippines.

In a speech at a military camp on Tuesday, Mr. Duterte said she "must 
be joking" by demanding arrest warrants, which he said could take 
months to obtain. And he warned her not to create a crisis "because I 
will order everybody in the executive department not to honor you."

"Please, don't order me," he said. "I'm not a fool. If this 
continues, you're trying to stop me, I might lose my cool. Or would 
you rather I declare martial law?"

But on Thursday, Mr. Duterte apologized, saying he never intended his 
"harsh words." He said he had been moved by "the magnitude" of the 
drug problem and was seeking to solve it within his authority as president.

At the same time, questions were being raised about the list of names 
that Mr. Duterte read on national television and the death threat it carried.

Critics pointed to flaws in the list and questioned whether it had 
been properly vetted. Justice Sereno said that only four of the seven 
judges on the list were still on the bench. One of them died in 2008. 
Another was dismissed in 2007.

Jeffrey Celis, who was listed as a congressman, never served in the 
body, according to the local news media.

Many of the elected officials quickly denied any involvement in the 
illegal drug trade. Some volunteered to take drug tests. One vice 
mayor said he had been the victim of mistaken identity; it was 
probably his brother the police were after, he said.

Mr. Dimaukom, the Datu Saudi-Ampatuan mayor, said he had been wrongly 
placed on the list because of false accusations spread by political rivals.

Mr. Duterte acknowledged that some names might be on the list by 
mistake. He said he would take responsibility for anyone who was 
wrongly accused, although what action he would take was not clear, 
particularly since the list might be seen by vigilantes or the police 
as a license to kill.

Dionisio Santiago, former head of the Philippines Drug Enforcement 
Agency, said in an interview that the list was similar to one 
prepared by his agency that he presented in 2010 to the president at 
the time, President Benigno S. Aquino III. Mr. Aquino, he said, took no action.

Mr. Santiago said some people might have been placed on the list 
erroneously or because of a grudge. But he said most of the list was 
accurate, and he defended the inclusion of deceased officials.

"Does being dead exonerate you?" he asked. "Dying does not erase your 

The police said that most of the people the president named had 
reported to the authorities as he demanded.

Mr. Duterte's presidential immunity may shield him from any 
repercussions, which is fine with his supporters.

"The president's public shaming of government officials involved in 
the illegal drugs trade is the best use of the presidential immunity 
from suit in our history," Representative Danilo Suarez, the minority 
floor leader in Congress, wrote in The Manila Standard.

Ms. de Lima, who leads the Senate committee on justice and human 
rights, said the committee would hold hearings this month on the wave 
of extrajudicial killings.

"He's now a runaway train," she said. "It's very revolting to me. So 
far, the victims of the summary killings are the lowly ones, the 
powerless, who cannot afford lawyers, who cannot seek audiences with 
the president."

Despite Mr. Duterte's threat, so far that fate has not befallen the 
officials, suggesting that despite his bravado, he may not want to 
unleash a civil war.

In Datu Saudi-Ampatuan, a town of about 20,000 people, Mr. Dimaukom 
said he was not worried about an investigation.

"First, our defense is the truth," he said. "If you are not guilty, 
why should you be afraid?"

But he was taking no chances.

The morning after the list was announced, he reported to the local 
police, then flew to Manila, the capital, to meet with officials there.

Felipe Villamor contributed reporting.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom