It might seem that the Philippines’ trouble began when it elected Mr. Duterte, a brash provincial politician who has for decades embraced extrajudicial killings as a legitimate method of crime control.
But the true roots of the problem can be traced to the administration of Mr. Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino III. That is because, experts say, the true cause of this kind of extrajudicial violence is the public’s loss of confidence in state institutions and its turning instead to more immediate forms of punishment and control.
Mr. Aquino, elected in 2010 on promises to support the rule of law and human rights, failed to fix the Philippines’ corrupt and ineffective justice system. His administration also faced a series of security-related scandals, including a hostage crisis in Manila in 2010.
And, perhaps most critical, Mr. Aquino was perceived as lazy and soft, unwilling to take the necessary steps to solve the country’s problems.
Frustration with the government’s inability to provide basic security led to rising public demand for new leaders who would take more decisive action to provide security.
“The fact is that the judicial system, the court system, is broken in the Philippines,” said Phelim Kine, a deputy director of the Asia Division at Human Rights Watch.
Powerful people, Mr. Kine said, are often aThe Demand
When people begin to see the justice system as thoroughly corrupt and broken, they feel unprotected from crime. That sense of threat makes them willing to support vigilante violence, which feels like the best option for restoring order and protecting their personal safety.
Gema Santamaria, a professor at the Mexico Autonomous Institute of Technology in Mexico City who studies lynchings and other forms of vigilante killings, and José Miguel Cruz, the research director at Florida International University’s Latin American and Caribbean Center, used survey data from across Latin America to test what leads people to support extrajudicial violence.
The data told a very similar story across all of the countries in their sample. People who didn’t have faith in their country’s institutions were more likely to say vigilante violence was justified. By contrast, in states with stronger institutions, people were more likely to reject extrajudicial violence.
People turn to vigilante violence as a replacement for the formal justice system, Ms. Santamaria said. That can take multiple forms — lynch mobs in Mexico, for instance, or paramilitary “self-defense” forces in Colombia — but the core impulse is the same.
“When you have a system that doesn’t deliver, you are creating, over a period of time, a certain culture of punishment,” she said. “Regardless of what the police are going to do, you want justice, and it will be rough justice.”
Surprisingly, that includes increased support for the use of harsh extralegal tactics by the police themselves. “This seems counterintuitive,” Ms. Santamaria said. “If you don’t trust the police to prosecute criminals, why would you trust them with bending the law?”
But to people desperate for security, she said, the unmediated punishment of police violence seems far more effective than waiting for a corrupt system to take action.
And so, over time, frustration with state institutions, coupled with fear of crime and insecurity, leads to demand for authoritarian violence — even if that means empowering the same corrupt, flawed institutions that failed to provide security in the first place.
Leaders like Mr. Duterte have a political incentive to exploit this sentiment, marketing their willingness to go around the system to prove that they are willing to do whatever it takes to solve the country’s problems.
“When you have a weak government that faces a security crisis and also a crisis of trust of the people, the issue of promising more punishment is a shortcut to gain citizens’ confidence, to gain support,” Ms. Santamaria said.
Why not instead promise to fix the real underlying problems?
First, because institutional reform isn’t as politically appealing as identifying villains — in the case of the Philippines, criminal gangs — and promising to take them down. Second, because the very state weakness that created the problems often means that leaders are incapable of fixing the underlying issues.
A number of developing countries struggle to deliver security, said James Robinson, a professor of public policy at the University of Chicago and an expert on state failure.
State weakness creates the “demand” for better security by any means, he said, “but there’s also a supply side.”ble to evade justice entirely. “When you factor in elements of corruption, and perceptions that people can buy themselves protection from the police or buy themselves out of trouble,” he said, “this adds up to a lot of frustration among Filipinos who sense that government and the judicial system is part of the problem, not the solution.”
And the supply side,” he continued, “is that the state encourages this kind of informalization of violence, this kind of informalization of security.”
A result is that politicians who embrace extralegal violence gain public support, and those who oppose it are often painted as weak and ineffective.
“Rule of law does not sell well,” Ms. Santamaria said.
This dynamic can drive leaders like Mr. Duterte to encourage vigilante violence, even if the bloodshed only worsens insecurity and its targets are largely innocent. The point is demonstrating a willingness to go to any length to get results.
By portraying the victims as criminals, Mr. Duterte can claim success, and local communities might believe things are improving. But the extrajudicial killings, though intended to provide security, instead end up provoking a self-reinforcing cycle of ever-worsening insecurity and retaliation.
Once the government makes it clear that no one will face legal repercussions for extrajudicial killings, Mr. Kine of Human Rights Watch said, “then anybody with a gun and a grudge has free license to go and victimize people without worrying about the consequences.”
That fuels public demand for more extralegal violence to quell the problem. Eventually, the situation spirals out of control.
Mr. Kine pointed to the Philippine city of Tagum on the island of Mindanao. There, the city government encouraged off-duty police officers and collaborators to murder petty criminals, including street children, in the name of being tough on crime.
Once its ability to operate with impunity was established, Mr. Kine said, that death squad began engaging in contract killings for money. People who opposed the death squad, including some police officers, were deemed enemies and often targeted. The city became more dangerous and lawless, with devastating results for ordinary citizens.
The real problem, Ms. Santamaria said, is not just the violence. Rather, it is the way it alters the rules of society itself: what is acceptable, and what is necessary to survive.
People whose relatives have been unjustly killed see violence as a legitimate way to right that wrong, Ms. Santamaria said. Once violence becomes an acceptable means for settling disputes and exerting power, it is difficult for people to trust any other system, she added.
States, locked in that escalating cycle, struggle to re-establish order. A culture of vengeful punishment takes hold, crowding out the rule of law. State officials have little standing to demand that people follow the rule of law when the state itself has been encouraging lawless violence.
In Guatemala, decades of extrajudicial violence have left thousands dead, opened space for ruthless street gangs and sent tens of thousands of child refugees north in search of safety.
In Colombia, vigilante “self-defense” groups grew, in the 1970s and ’80s, into large paramilitary organizations. They joined with state-supported counterinsurgency groups and became major players in the country’s drug trade and a party to its civil war, in which they were known for particularly gruesome attacks on civilians they perceived as enemies.
This is perhaps the most worrying lesson of the social scientists’ research: that it does not take evil to destroy a community’s peace and safety. Rather, ordinary human desire for security, coupled with weak institutions and desperate short-term thinking, can lead a country into an escalating disaster.
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SOURCE: YOUTUBE, New York Times