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Can he do it?

THE incoming Duterte administration won overwhelming vote support with its promise of change. Change was promised in many areas of the national life – to bring the benefits of economic progress down to the level of ordinary folk, to give the regions greater autonomy and, therefore, greater opportunity for development, to bring peace to President-elect Duterte’s own region of Mindanao, to make peace not only with the Moro groups but also with the Communist rebels of the New People’s Army.

But it was only in one promise of change that he set a deadline – he would put an end to the crime and the drug menace in three to six months. In one press conference during the election campaign, he declared: “I will control drugs. I will control crime. And, I repeat, the predicate in all my statements is this – I am willing to lose the presidency, my life, or honor. This is what I promise the people. I intend to do it.”

With the start of the Duterte administration only a few days away, the incoming chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP) Ronald de la Rosa warned that police officers involved in drugs will not be accorded “gentle persuasion.” They face “outright elimination.” Of the present 160,000 personnel in the PNP, he said, “more or less one percent” are involved in illegal drugs. As for the drug lords themselves, De la Rosa reiterated President-elect Duterte’s own warning: “If he puts up a fight, he dies.”

In recent days, a number of people linked to drug operations have been found dead, in what appeared to be vigilante killings. During the victory celebration at the Crocodile Farm in Davao City last Saturday, President-elect Duterte himself urged the public to help him in his war against crime, offering bounties for drug lords.

Such talk has understandably alarmed human rights activists who fear widespread rights violations. Malacañang itself, through Presidential Communication Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said that while it supports the anti-corruption campaign, it must be within the bounds of law.

This is truly a problem. We are a nation of laws faithful to its rule and to due process, even if that has led to considerable delay in getting justice done. So many cases get blocked in the judicial processes. With so many people – officials and law enforcement men along with resourceful private individuals – seemingly above the law, we have what seems to be a culture of impunity that President-elect Duterte has vowed to demolish.

Can he do it while, at the same time, upholding the rule of law? These are truly uncertain times for our nation.