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DABAL, Jessa Mae P.

II- Block C

Is there a culture of impunity in the Philippines?

Yes, because as a citizen of the Philippines, I observed that there is a culture
of impunity in the Philippines. To understand the meaning of culture of
impunity, "culture” can be defined as "the customs, arts, social achievements
of a particular nation, people, or other social group," or, even better, "the
attitudes and behavior characteristic of a particular social group."

"Impunity" is defined as "exemption from punishment or freedom from the

injurious consequences of an action" (latin: impunis or "unpunished").

Put them together, and what culture of impunity means is the attitudes and
behavior of a social group who consider themselves exempt from
punishment. In other words, how people behave when they think they can
get away with it, when they think they will not be held accountable for their

Are the military and the police, and political warlords, the only social groups
in the country who think the can get away, figuratively and literally, with
murder? Or at least, try to, and for the most part, have succeeded?

For sure, they account for most of the culture of impunity that we deplore,
mainly because they are either the ones who bear arms, or control/influence
those who do.1
Many are persecuted, detained, and killed, thereby propagating a culture of
impunity—a culture that threatens the very foundation of democracy itself.

The cause—impunity, a word to describe what happens when actions fail to

face their consequences and threats, and when threats, attacks, and murders
go unpunished. Such an idea seems unfitting for nations that call themselves
democratic, yet unfortunately, unpunished cases have become so rife that it
has bred a culture of impunity bent on letting the guilty escape without any
accountability for their crimes. Instances like this are not isolated to criminals
simply running free. It is a pattern that we see embedding itself in the minds
of the corrupt to hold society’s watchdogs in a chokehold, silencing the truth
and championing the culture of impunity.2

There are examples, which show a culture of impunity in the Philippines.

Take, for example, former President Joseph Estrada, who was
sentenced to life in prison for plundering allegedly more than $80
million. Political expediency saw him pardoned by his successor,
Gloria Arroyo, and he is now mayor of Manila while his relatives are

Senators and Congressmen. Even his mistress now rules as mayor of his
traditional bailiwick.

Similarly, former President Arroyo became linked to a long list of

corruption scandals during her nine-year regime, yet she was re-elected
to Congress while under house arrest on various charges of corruption.
Duterte offered to pardon her a few weeks before the Supreme Court
(composed of a majority of her appointees) acquitted her of the charge
of plunder. Despite still facing a charge of graft, and thus barred from
leaving the country, Arroyo has recently been named Deputy Speaker
of Congress. Members of her former Cabinet now comprise the
majority of Duterte’s inner circle.

It is not only Presidents who seem untouchable. Tito Sotto, a TV

comedian turned politician, was pilloried by citizens for his blatant
plagiarisms in his multiple Senate speeches against a reproductive-
health bill that would provide care to women, yet he received no
censure from his legislative cohorts. Meanwhile, Congressman Romeo
Jalosjos, serving two life sentences for raping an 11-year-old girl, won
re-election, twice, from behind bars, and enjoyed his regular game on
the tennis court he had built in the maximum-security prison; he was
pardoned by Arroyo only 10 years into his conviction. Similarly,
members of the Arroyo-allied Ampatuan clan have been charged with
the massacre of 58 political opponents and journalists, yet seven years
later they have still escaped conviction.

As has former Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, a Marcos henchman, who

weathered many scandals throughout five presidencies; charged with
plundering nearly $4 million, he is out on bail because of his advanced
age. These are but few of many examples.

To outsiders, all that seems outrageous. To Filipinos, it is just politics

as usual — the manipulations of a game of thrones, so to speak. After
every election, officials abandon any party loyalty to join the winning
candidate. During any administration, many a politician is caught doing
something too criminal for the incumbent to leave unpunished. Over the
years, alleged political pilferers leverage their influence to support an
opposition that can eventually throw out their cases, or grant pardons,
or return them to power as needed allies. 3

These few examples show that there is a culture of impunity in the

Philippines. The most recent example which also shows a culture of
impunity is when the EU report added that Duterte's remarks have also
encouraged security forces to deal with suspected drug individuals in an
"aggressive approach."

"The president’s statements and actions have seemingly encouraged the
police to take an aggressive approach in dealing with drug users and pushers,
and have – according to human rights advocates – also encouraged vigilante
style extrajudicial killings," the EU said.

The campaign against illegal drugs resulted in the death of around 6,000
people in the period from July to mid-December, with one third of the
killings occurring during police operations.
It added that more than 40 000 drug suspects have been arrested in the same

The EU urged the government "to ensure that the fight against drugs crime is
conducted within the law, including the right to due process and
safeguarding of the basic human rights of citizens of the Philippines,
including the right to life, and that it respects the proportionality principle." 4