By: Modesto P. Sa-onoy
The topic of 15 historians gathered in Tacloban City for the 75th anniversary of the landing of General Douglas MacArthur and the United States army were about World War II and the many incidents of killings. Individuals and groups were killed in the process of “pacification” to make the Filipinos tow the Japanese line.
It was a big surprise when one colleague pointed out the news that President Rodrigo Duterte had instructed the newly appointed police officer to “kill everybody in Bacolod”. It was like a Japanese colonel ordering the killing of civilians who were suspected of supporting the guerrillas. At the war crime tribunals, the colonel was found guilty and executed but the soldiers who did the bloody job were not included in the charge.
Police Lt. Col. Jovie Espenido was assigned to Bacolod with a reported mandate to “go there and you are free to kill everybody. Go, start killing them!” Espenido is suited for the job and must have been chosen precisely because of his track record in other places. He had been charged with several killings of suspected drug lords even in police custody.
Though some shrugged off the president’s order for the killing of suspected (or confirmed only by police reports) drug lords as a “figure of speech”, we don’t know how Espenido understood that order. It could be a “direct order” without conditions except that he would be protected by the President. Of course, when the president is no longer in office, how can he be protected from prosecution? Or even by elements that will exact vengeance outside the law?
The war crimes in World War II tribunals established a ruling: obedience to an order that violates the law does not exonerate the perpetrator. Thus, neither can Espenido take cover from this direct order from the president even if it was taken at its face value.
We wonder: Did the president explain to Espenido that he (the president) was merely joking as some people or favorable media think? We will not know until Espenido launches his campaign and the funeral parlors having plenty of customers.
There were quick reactions from two Negros bishops– Bishop Patricio Buzon of Bacolod and Bishop Gerardo Alminasa of San Carlos. Theirs were voices of conscience and deep concern that many, including politicians and businessmen, feared to express.
Our colleagues in Tacloban asked how widespread is the drug menace in Bacolod that the president had to send a man like Espenido? What can I say considering that the Bacolod City government had been jumping with pride that Bacolod is a “model city”? As one Bacolod businessman rhetorically asked, “What model?”
I did not know because Bacolod’s traffic is still a mess, the garbage is not collected as provided for in the city’s multi-million contract, most of the illegal structures are still there despite the DILG report and, well, the Bacolod police have a daily report of raids and confiscation of drugs.
With the president sending his top enforcer to kill those involved in illegal drugs, then probably Bacolod is a model of how to keep the drug trade flowing and flourishing and must be cleaned. The enforcer with a Clint Eastwood’s, “make my day” mentality will have to clear the city of its human garbage.
The concerns of the two bishops should be considered seriously and perhaps, the Oratio Emperata that was prayed at the end of Sunday Masses in four dioceses of the island should be continued but with modifications to suit the new situation. That Oratio was for the political killings. The new Oratio should be for killings without due process.
The reaction of Bacolod Mayor Evelio Leonardia contrasts with those of the bishops. Leonardia’s reaction is clearly political bootlicking for fear for himself. The image that he nurtured for years of Bacolod being a wonderful city is shattered by the decision of the president. The well-crafted patina of being a model has been scratched off and revealed the true state of the city – mired in illegal drugs that needed to be surgically removed.
Did Leonardia not realize that the presidential action is a rebuke for failure?
The daily reports of “achievements” in the illegal drug operations was seen by the president from a different angle surely based on unadulterated reports.
Instead of parrying off, Leonardia should hang his head in shame.