There are a lot of things the Duterte administration gets right about their “war on drugs.” True: like many social ills, many things about drugs can be traced to the upper echelons of society. True: many anti-drug government programs in previous administrations did not go far enough to have lasting effects. True: drugs are a big problem in society, and cannot be ignored in a conversation about peace and order. Needless to say, this government is enthusiastic about the drug program. Thousands of addicts have already surrendered, with no other reason than fear of the President.
But it does get a lot of things wrong. And one blog entry wouldn’t suffice for that. So at the risk of sounding nitpicky about the Duterte drug war, let’s head on over to that one thing that they really bungled.
On August 7, in the wee hours of the morning, President Duterte took to Camp Panacan to deliver one of his trademark soliloquies, and read aloud a list of over 150 government and police officers allegedly involved in the drug trade. The key word: “allegedly.” Needless to say, Duterte’s one for command responsibility: he took it upon himself to take responsibility for mistakes and errors that the list may have. Because my God, he hates drugs.
Now there will always be denial, but Duterte kind of missed out on a few things. For all the hectoring claims about the list being “verified,” the list missed out on a judge who died in 2008, or how a mayor he tagged passed away in 2014. But no less than Martin Andanar would call the list a “masterstroke,” and Bato Dela Rosa would shrug off errors in the list: to the mind of the new “icon” of the drug war, we’re probably focusing too much on the mistakes and too little on the gains.
And then there are Sec. Andanar’s soundbites too, but then again these things can always be taken out of context.
But Andanar, Dela Rosa, and Duterte himself wouldn’t want none of that. Not one to run out of ways to find superlatives for his boss, Andanar praises it as a “masterstroke:” something that “has never been done before.” And there’s a reason why this hasn’t been done in recent history. Or why people haven’t “done this before.”
Here’s the thing: lists have great consequences. A list of debts displayed on the window of a sari-sari store, for example, can be enough to shame debtors into paying. A list of winners in a contest can be enough to encourage them to claim their prizes. At one point in our history as human beings, a simple list meant all the difference for people finding themselves between a gas chamber in Auschwitz, and a factory that acted as a refuge.
One of the last people to come out from the political woodwork to bolster a political career out of a list was a US Senator named Joseph McCarthy, back in the 1950s. At the height of the Communist scares, McCarthy produced a list of people suspected to be traitors to the American way of life, without proper regard for evidence. Sure, McCarthy got some of them right, but it’s the erroneous allegations—the errors in judgment—of McCarthy that did him in.
And there’s a pretty good reason why we don’t do these things anymore. Duterte tends to tread the same ground, with a few differences. It seems that for now, there is no consequence for Duterte’s “name and shame” campaign: it’s pretty hard to chip away at a 91% trust rating. What do we do with, say, completely innocent people who are forever tainted by the list? What do we do of the long dead and whatever drug connections they have had when they were living? Sure, a lot of this is just “collateral damage.” This is probably just another harmless “intel report.” Maybe it’s probably just one of those harmless lists.
When you consider the number of people killed every day in the name of Duterte’s war on drugs, the list is contextually (given this government’s penchant for hyperbole, straight off the box of a Clint Eastwood VHS tape) a hitlist.
While Andanar and Dela Rosa gloat over the “masterstroke” of Duterte’s strategy, the factual errors and the mistakes that puts the list in question stains the reliability of such a campaign. The seeming guarantee to all of this is to shame those who are listed into submission. And then what? Don’t we all know what the wealthy drug lords of this planet would do, when faced with a list like that?
In the process of making mistakes in the list—be it dead officials or the inadvertent political color that went into it—the whole thing turned into a “master stroke” of a different sort.
But that’s for another time.