CAGAYAN DE ORO, Philippines – Kagay-anon human rights advocates on Friday, March 24, booed the city government for citing and declaring ex-president Rodrigo Duterte as an “adopted son” of Cagayan de Oro.
The official declaration has sparked controversy and concern among human rights advocates, who said it sent the wrong message that the thousands of killings during the Duterte administration’s bloody war on drugs were acceptable.
“It is discomforting to me as a human rights lawyer in the city because his war against crimes was really a war against the poor,” said lawyer Beverly Selim-Musni, who represents the Union of Peoples’ Lawyers in Mindanao (UPLM) in Cagayan de Oro.
She said Duterte did not deserve the city hall citation given his administration’s track record of human rights violations, which “makes the declaration highly questionable.”
Selim-Musni also pointed out that the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague has taken cognizance of the Duterte administration’s anti-crime campaign, particularly his bloody “war on drugs,” as a crime against humanity.
That alone, she said, should have been seen as a red flag by the city government.
On Thursday, March 23, the city government conferred plaques of merit to Duterte and his close aide turned Senator Christopher Lawrence Go during a luncheon at the Limketkai Luxe Hotel in Cagayan de Oro.
The event was attended by Cagayan de Oro Mayor Rolando Uy and Misamis Oriental Governor Peter Unabia, both of whom served as congressmen during the six-year Duterte administration. It was Uy who handed Duterte his award.
The declaration was based on a resolution passed by the city council to recognize Duterte for his “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure program, his war against crime, and the government’s pandemic response.
A second resolution cited Go for establishing Malasakit centers – one-stop-shop centers for medical and financial assistance – throughout the country, two of which are in Cagayan de Oro.
The city council resolutions’ authors, Councilors Joyleen Mercedes “Girlie” Balaba and Yam Lam Lim – two politicians with deep ties to the Duterte group in Davao City – read the citations during the event.
On one hand, Balaba, a former ABS-CBN-Davao broadcast journalist, is known for her closeness to the former president whom she said she has been consulting on legal matters.
Lim, on the other hand, is the brother-in-law of Davao-based businessman Sammy Uy, one of Duterte’s reported financial backers in Davao City.
In his acceptance speech, Duterte expressed his gratitude for the recognition, stating that while he was typically “averse to receiving awards and recognition,” he was honored to have his name associated with Cagayan de Oro City.
“I believe that like Davao City, Cagayan de Oro City continues to be a major socio-economic center in Mindanao, and to have my name connected to (the city) is quite an honor – one that I would cherish for the remaining years of my life,” Duterte said.
Human Rights Watch senior researcher Carlos H. Conde, who is from Cagayan de Oro, called the citation given to Duterte “outrageous, an abomination, and an insult to the families of the victims” of Duterte’s controversial war on drugs.
“Declaring Duterte as the city’s ‘adopted son’ is the height of insensitivity and political cynicism. It is offensive to me as a [Kagay-anon]. I mean, what are they (city hall) talking about? Giving him this honor is saying that it is okay to put matters in your own hands. It is saying it is okay to circumvent due process,” said Conde.
The Philippine Drug Enforcement Administration (PDEA) counted some 6,252 summary executions up until the end of Duterte’s term as president, but human rights groups said they documented much more than that.
Cagayan de Oro also had its share of mysterious killings at the height of Duterte’s war on drugs. Most, if not all, were supposedly killed because the suspects allegedly fought back during the anti-drug operations.
Roman Catholic Archbishop Jose Cabantan expressed reservations about the city government’s move to declare Duterte as an adopted son of Cagayan de Oro.
Cabantan acknowledged the positive impact of ongoing infrastructure projects in Mindanao and Go’s Malasakit program initiative, but he frowned on Duterte’s war on drugs and cited controversies surrounding PhilHealth and Pharmally deals during the crucial period of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Meanwhile, columnist and Kagay-anon social anthropologist Antonio Montalvan II said he suspected that the declarations were merely a political maneuver by local politicians.
He said, “Klarex (Mayor Uy) and Unabia (Misamis Oriental governor) are already aiming for their self-preservation in 2028. They are sure that in 2028 it will be a Sara presidency. It is just an exercise in being in the good graces (with) the Dutertes. But what if it won’t be a Sara presidency?”
Montalvan also noted the vagueness of the resolution’s language regarding Duterte’s war on drugs, which was phrased “war against crime.” He said it was a euphemism for extra-judicial killings.
He said, “Did they mention the drug war in the resolution? Or did they omit it? If they omitted it, that’s a tacit admission of its growing controversy, and the ICC warrant of arrest is just around the corner. So what adopted son award does he merit?”
Montalvan also said most of the big-ticket infrastructure projects city hall credited Duterte for were initiated during the administration of the late former president Benigno Simeon Aquino III. – Rappler.com
Cong Corrales is an Aries Rufo Journalism fellow.
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