The Long view: Some LGU leaders bloodier than others


Some LGU leaders bloodier than others

The Spanish empire had a principle colonial governors could invoke, if they wanted to ignore a decree from the king in Madrid on the grounds that the order was unsuited to actual conditions: “Obedezco pero no cumplo” (I obey but I do not comply).

From Fatou Bensouda’s request for a deeper probe into the possibility of crimes against humanity in the Philippines, we know the President’s potential co-accused include the top brass of the PNP from July 1, 2016 to March 16, 2019. A document exists that can tell us who, among civilian LGU officials, deserve inclusion as well.

A paper published by the Peace Research Institute Frankfurt (Leibniz-Institut) in May 2020 bears exceptional relevance to understanding the situation as it unfolded on the ground. The report, titled “Governors and Mayors in the Philippines: Resistance To Or Support For Duterte’s Deadly War On Drugs,” by Peter Kreuzer, who looked at six “structurally fairly comparable LGUs” in or near NCR, plus Davao City. What Kreuzer wanted to study was how similar LGUs reacted to the President’s “having given carte blanche powers to those carrying out the [anti-drug] campaign.” The paper had, as “The primary focus… the initial year of Duterte’s presidency from July 2016 to June 2017, when both police and vigilante fatal violence peaked.”

As he put it, of the LGUs he studied, “Three LGUs (Valenzuela City, Pampanga province, Davao City) reacted only in a very muted way, whereas in the four others (Caloocan City, Manila City, Quezon City and Bulacan province) fatal police violence exploded, accompanied by high levels of vigilante killings.”

What could account for the difference? Leadership. Essentially, Kreuzer identified two kinds of LGU leadership. The first kind “of local security governance strengthens local PNP commitment to local networks and solutions and establishes a horizontal group of task-oriented actors bound together by mutual trust and joint experience.” For this to happen, according to Kreuzer, the LGU’s chief executive has to “make local citizen security governance part and parcel of their political agenda and bridge the formal institutional divide between the local PNP branch and local governmental, quasi-governmental, and non-governmental institutions that play various roles in local security governance.” In this manner, the local PNP can resist pressure from the national government if the pressures contradict the consensus in local governance.

The second kind, “enhances PNP bonding with and loyalty to the PNP hierarchy and minimizes its commitment to local actors. Here, a passive local political leadership largely avoids the politically unrewarding topic of crime control, leaving this to the local branch of the PNP.” In such a situation the PNP is inclined to strictly and unquestioningly follow directives from the national leadership.

Kreuzer identified three LGUs of the first type, and four of the second. For the first type, “In all three cases, police and vigilante killings rose only modestly during the initial year of Duterte’s presidency, when central pressure was strongest.” But for the second type, “This not only resulted in a huge spike of deadly police violence during the first year of the war on drugs. It also facilitated excessive levels of vigilantism that seem to have gone unchecked in these LGUs.”

The author described his findings as “ambivalent” and a run-through of his case studies are descriptive enough to make the alert Filipino reader see why. For the three active chief executives whose governance limited the bloodshed, he chose: 1) The Gatchalian brothers “Rationalist Managers of Valenzuela”; 2) Lilia Piñeda “The tough but caring patron of Kampangans”; 3) Sara Duterte-Carpio “Peace and order as ‘the backbone of all economies’ in Davao City.” For the four passive ones where bloodshed was unchecked (names added in brackets): 1) [Gov. Wilhelmino Sy-Alvarado] Bulacan province: “A disinterested local government meets hardline police directors”; 2) [Herbert Bautista] Quezon City; 3) [Joseph Estrada] Manila; 4) [Oscar Malapitan] Caloocan.

The most surprising thing about the list is that the President’s daughter, with whom he has (in)famously had a stormy relationship, is categorized as a local chief executive whose governance limited somewhat the wholesale implementation of the President’s desires. The mayors of Manila and Caloocan come across very badly indeed, but particularly noteworthy is Quezon City in which the President took a keen interest in the police leadership and where the current Chief PNP, Guillermo Eleazer, takes a star turn as a lead player in the President’s PNP regime change in the city.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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