Extrajudicial killings for political leverage

Extrajudicial killings for political leverage

Families and relatives of victims of so-called extrajudicial killings light candles in protest of the prevailing culture of violence.

Hitler massacred three million Jews . . . there’s 3 million drug addicts. There are. I’d be happy to slaughter them.

— President Rodrigo Roa Duterte

A NEW study focusing on the human rights aspects of the anti-drug campaign of the Duterte administration shows that not only has the campaign incited thousands of extrajudicial killings but also served as a political leverage for so-called ‘outsider’ mayors who are seeking favor from those in power.

Initial output from the study, entitled ‘Deadly Populism: How Local Political Outsiders Drive Duterte’s War on Drugs in the Philippines’, revealed that independent and minority mayors — outsiders like Mr. Rodrigo Duterte was when he was mayor of Davao City—implemented the drug war more aggressively than those from established political parties to win electoral support.

It added that outsider-led municipalities recorded 40 percent more anti-drug police incidents and 60 percent more police-related killings than their insider counterparts, in a costly bid to signal their loyalty to the administration.

To prove this, United States-based political scientists Nico Ravanilla, Renard Sexton and Dotan Haim pored over a million police records and news reports through Bantay Krimen of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project databases, as well as public procurement and 2016-2019 election data.

The three scientists are all assistant professors in the University of California San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy, Emory University and Florida State University, respectively.

Their findings showed higher drug-related crimes in outsider-led municipalities and those outsider incumbent mayors, most of whom had shifted to the President’s PDP-Laban party by 2019, performed better in the midterm elections by 5 percentage points than establishment incumbent mayors.

It was a reversal of electoral trends in previous midterms, where outsiders performed less than insider incumbents. By falling in step with Mr. Duterte’s signature policy, the outsiders were able to gain electoral support from his network, concluded the researchers, the study pointed out while explaining how Duterte was able to realign the Philippine political structure around a populist policy, in the style of other political outsiders, among them outgoing United States president Donald Trump and Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban.

In 2016, only 19 winning mayors nationwide were members of Duterte’s PDP-Laban, while 747 belonged to the Liberal Party (LP), the study noted.

Ravanilla, the lone Filipino in the study team, observed that the typical dynamic is that as soon as there is a new president, the tendency of everyone in the House of Representatives was to jump ship into the patronage network of the sitting president. This immediate realignment, however, was not seen in the Duterte administration, because the President was a complete outsider.

For his part Sexton deduced that the outsider status of Duterte and other politicians was relative to Manila and national politics—not the political game as a whole—thus, to implement his more radical policies, including the war on drugs, Duterte needed to establish his own nationalized patronage network.

The study also expounded that it wasn’t enough to switch in name—indeed, 90 percent of LP mayors had jumped ship by the midterms.

Sexton said that they had to ‘buy into the network, too’ and while city police are still answerable to the PNP, local mayors hold wide discretion in commanding their own cops. This, he added, explained the difference in national implementation despite the drug war ‘being dictated from the top’.

He further clarified that in terms of political implications, you now have a newly agglomerated network that’s sort of in full force by 2019, organized around the President, and the drug war played a core role in identifying who is in. This is a kind of litmus test—a costly way of showing loyalty to the President.

Meanwhile, Haim scored that despite the implications on human rights, outsider mayors were more likely to take on Duterte’s drug war “because they didn’t have access to the traditional way of winning elections in a patronage democracy like the Philippines—namely, getting access to pork funds.”

According to the procurement data, outsider mayors got only half as much spending per capita in public works funds than their establishment counterparts, which, the researchers said, were traditionally used to skim funds for their campaign machines.

So there is this tradeoff now. Those who were part of the insider network had access to existing patronage networks, so they did not implement the drug war as aggressively. Ironically, if outsiders were allowed to traditional sources of patronage, maybe they would have been less likely to take on this deadly drug war.

Ravanilla, Sexton and Haim failed to name specific municipalities or mayors that fell into the pattern but they hope to prove that the dynamic was “generalizable,” according to Ravanilla.

But by itself, the study shows how populist leaders can garner support even for controversial policies that involve human rights violations or illegal practices and likewise described how outsiders stand to gain electorally by aligning themselves with the national leader, especially when a policy like the drug war still proves popular in the next election cycle.

At present, the Philippine drug war still has large public support despite mounting legal challenges to it both here and abroad. But mayors can still face ‘future legal accountability’ once political winds change. (AI/MTVN)

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