It is beginning to smack a little of desperation—or at least we hope it is. Philippine President Rodirgo Duterte—whose "war on drugs" has now reached the point of mass murder—was recently put on the hot spot when his own son was called to testify before a Senate hearing on drug corruption. Paolo Duterte is a vice-mayor of the same southern port city, Davao, where his dad had long served as mayor. The younger Duterte is accused of being part of a ring of corrupt officials that allowed methamphetamine shipments through the city's port. President Duterte has repeatedly boasted of his enthusiasm for killing drug suspects. Would his standards of rough justice apply to his own kith and kin?
Now the prez has answered: Yup. Using Paolo's nickname, he boasted in a public speech Sept. 21: "I told Pulong, 'My order is to kill you if you are caught… And I will protect the police who will kill you.'" The reference to protecting the police makes clear that he is talking about an extrajudicial killing, not legal use of the death penalty. Capital punishment remains outlawed in the Philippines—despite Duterte's efforts to have it restored (and the free rein he is giving his police to kill drug suspects without the bothersome formality of a trial).
He added in his speech that he had already given explicit orders to the police to rub out his son: "My order was: If there's any of my children into drugs, kill them, so the people can't say anything against me."
Of course the phrase following the word "if" is something of an escape clause; presumably, Duterte's cops would not be so indiscrete as to find evidence that Paolo is "into drugs."
In another sign of desperation (or is it just plain arrogance?) Duterte just admitted to lying about one of his key political opponents. Accusing anyone who opposes his drug war of drug corruption is one of the president's favorite tricks, and he just used it against Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, one of his biggest critics in the Philippine Senate.
In a Sept. 15 interview, Duterte accused Trillanes of sequestering millions in presumably ill-gotten gains in a secret bank account in Singapore, even giving the account number: 178000296012. Trillanes actually flew to Singapore to meet with banking officials and clear his name. Sure enough, the bankers confirmed that no such account existed. Duterte then admitted he had made the number up, telling a TV reporter on Sept. 19: "That number I invented, son of a bitch, that's mine, I made it up."
Duterte's media spokesman, Erenesto Abella, dismissed the lie as just an example of the president's bad-boy ways, and quickly changed the subject: "Everybody has his own style, as we very well know. The president is quite unorthodox, out of the box when he deals [with things]. On the other hand, it’s also pertinent to say his actions have so far…proved to be economically viable for the nation. We were recently voted top financially inclusive country in Asia." (As if Duterte's economic performance is a license to lie about his political opponents.)
But all these shenanigans are really a sideshow to the steady unfolding of a lawless police state in Duterte's Philippines. The latest ultra-ominous development is that now, amid a relentless wave of extra-judicial killings, the Philippines' House of Representatives on Sept. 12 voted overwhelmingly to slash the annual budget of the official Commission on Human Rights to 1,000 pesos—the equivalent of just under $20. Yes, that's right. Twenty bucks.
The CHR—a body which Duterte (of course) has viciously disparaged—originally requested a budget of 1.72 billion pesos for 2018, an increase over its 2017 budget of 749 million pesos, in light of its increasing case load. The Duterte administration initially counter-proposed cutting the budget to 678 million pesos. But supporters of the president in Congress essentially voted to gut the organization entirely.
They justified this by claiming that the government's money was being wasted on the unnecessary defense of criminals' rights. Without proper funding, it is expected that the CHR will be unable to continue its investigations into the ongoing extrajudicial executions—giving Duterte's murderous police near-total impunity.
We can only hope that this consolidating dictatorship is approaching a breaking point. The more those of us in the outside world can turn up the lights on what is happening in the Philippines, the better the chances for the country coming back from the brink.