“A good reputation is more valuable than money.”
— Publilius Syrus
By Alex P. Vidal
NEW JERSEY –– In the government-led battle against illegal drugs in the Philippines in 2016, Iloilo City could be the biggest “winner” if the number of murdered and “neutralized” drug lords, small-time traffickers, and drug addicts is used as the barometer.
With a population of 424,619, Iloilo City could also be the biggest “loser” when it comes to the “shame campaign” initiated by President Rodrigo Duterte immediately after he assumed office in July.
Among those slain in the brutal crackdown against drug pushers was the Odicta couple, Melvin and Meriam, of Iloilo City. They were killed by unidentified gunmen in Caticlan Port in Aklan on their way back after “surrendering” to Interior and Local Government Secretary Mike Sueno in Quezon City in August.
The Odictas were the country’s biggest names in illegal drug trafficking to fall in 2016. Following their death, some of the couple’s top runners were either killed in “encounters” with police or arrested.
Aside from naming Mayor Jed Patrick Mabilog, ranked No. 5 in the 2014 World Mayor, as alleged protector of illegal drugs, Duterte also called the “City of Love” the “most shabulized city” in the country.
The tag, strongly belied and disputed by Mabilog and other local officials, demoralized some Ilonggos, especially those living in other parts of the world who suspected politics behind the “smear” drive.
Duterte also named three other prominent Iloilo mayors as “narco-politicians”: Alex Centena of Calinog, Siegfredo Betita of Carles and and Mariano Malones of Maasin.
Like Mabilog, they all cried foul.
Duterte based his accusations on the list provided by his intelligence henchmen who had been tipped off by narcotics agents, some of them were reportedly allies of political rivals of those on the list.
The shame campaign, which caught many local chef executives whose names were on the list flat-footed, didn’t prove the guilt of the maligned mayors and governors.
Duterte, in fact, had flip-flopped and apologized to some of those he mentioned in the list, underscoring suspicions that he was fed with half-baked if not unverified reports from the field.
Two of them, Mayor Samsudin Dimaukom of Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Maguindanao and Mayor Rolando Espinosa of Albuera, Leyte, however, were killed by police in separate encounters–all related to Duterte’s nationwide campaign against illegal drugs.
Some three thousand suspected drug traffickers and drug addicts have been summarily executed since Duterte and his national police director, Chief Supt. Ronaldo “Bato” Dela Rosa launched the “all-out” war against illegal drugs in the country.
Human rights advocates in the Philippines and abroad have criticized the apparent state-run extra-judicial killings (EJKs) and asked the president to halt the carnage.
They expressed alarm that some of those killed by lawmen in alleged “shootouts” were suspected pushers and young drug addicts and not convicted criminals.
Senator Leila De Lima, a former Commission on Human Rights commissioner, questioned the EJKs saying criminals are presumed innocent until proven by the court.
Duterte, who vowed to wipe out criminality in the country within six months starting in July, responded with derision and called his critics “SOB.”
When the president and Dela Rosa could not meet the six-month deadline, Duterte asked for extension.
Killings are feared to escalate anew in 2017.