TANAUAN CITY, Batangas – Mayor Antonio “Thony” Halili remained firm on his stance on parading suspected criminals, particularly those involved in the illegal drug trade, in a shame campaign dubbed “Flores de Pusher” held Sunday in this city.
In a media interview on Tuesday, Mayor Thony Halili said his iron-clad policy on the city’s anti-criminality drive would remain for as long as he was the city chief executive and continue to “discharge my duties as mayor and take care of my constituencies.”
Sunday’s parade of shame was an unusual parody to the Filipino cultural tradition and variation of ritual pageant of the Maytime Festival’s “Flores de Mayo” when the floral bloom in May is depicted through a captivating parade of beauties.
The ritual pomp and pageantry have beautiful queens and princesses garbed in their finest gowns with their handsome consorts and escorts on each side holding the artistically designed arches.
From Tanauan City’s Hope Facebook account, the real “Santacruzan” in search for the sacred cross was devoid of its religious tone and turned into a travesty “Flores de Pusher,” where 11 illegal drug offenders became the parade of “shamed stars” in the city’s anti-narcotics campaign.
Mayor Halili explained the “walk of shame” is an approach he found effective and conceptualized the thematic event into a “Flores de Pusher” and if there are still illegal drug offenders caught next month, then the thematic parody of the “June Bride” will be staged.
The paraded suspects wearing signs “ako ay pusher, ‘wag tularan” (I am a drug pusher, don’t imitate me) however drew mixed reactions from various quarters, the human rights commission, religious groups and social media citing suspects are subjected to indignity.
But the iron-fist city mayor defended “those arrested and paraded are 100 percent involved in illegal drugs and we have photo documentation and surveillance video to support these including the confiscated drug paraphernalia and pieces of evidence.”
“We cannot just parade them on the basis of just being suspected, but they really are verified and have records to show proof they were caught with the illegal drugs in their possession,” Halili said.
The city mayor’s anti-crime group (MACG), in coordination with police authorities during “buy-bust operations”, arrested the suspects engaged in illegal drug trade and narcotics operations and were at one time jailed, released on bail and continue to be recidivists in the city.
The mayor’s approach ends with the paraded suspects turned over to the police for them to file appropriate charges against the culprits in the proper court.
“We no longer interfere with the police who have the custody of their cases and have no doubts these people are guilty because our evidence is strong with the records, photos and videos and leave the matter to the judge for the court’s decision,” Halili explained.
The mayor welcomed the offer for legal assistance by incoming President Rodrigo Duterte in case he needs this in prosecuting the criminals and drug offenders in Tanauan City although the president-elect said this practice of shaming people by parading them in public is not observed in Davao City.
“My job is to rid this city with criminals. I have a different approach and if they could not be stopped, the criminals will just move to another place and continue to operate there,” Halili declared admitting he has no authority to run after them in places where it is no longer under his jurisdiction.
Halili told media here he is bent on pursuing his unconventional “shame drive” referring to the initial staging of such parade of thieves and robbers of dried fish victimizing public market vendors and stall owners in March 2014 that was implemented effectively and has since abated the crime.
He clarified that the first “walk of shame” was staged for thieves and robbers as reports reached him that there were almost daily cases where the culprits stole not just pieces but crates of dried fish not only for their meals but for business.
“We have tried in the past, but the approaches were not effective, until these illegal drug offenders resurfaced. A lot of them have been jailed but we discovered cases on their spouses or kin continue with the illegal drug trade,” Halili admitted.
He described the conventional “arrest and jail” method as tiring and ineffective hence he broached the idea on the shame campaign in the hope that this will be an effective deterrent to crime knowing that people are afraid of being “shamed”.
The Tanauan city chief executive shared that some quarters however are opposed to his approach especially if these suspects have not yet been proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt and detractors undermined his approach either as a fleeting “pogi point” show or a band-aid solution.
“I will not be unfazed and will not stop this approach even if it costs my position although there is a court where I can make an appeal,” Halili said.
He compared his move as no different to the media exposure of high-ranking government officials who were charged of plunder with their faces bannered on TV and media even if they are not yet proven guilty.
“If they claim that what we do here is against human rights for parading these suspects, is this not similar to what is applied to mug shots, video footage and trial by publicity carried in news reports,” the Tanauan mayor pointed out.
He welcomed the Human Rights Commission to file a case against him, but in like manner, the CHR should also file charges to all those engaged in this kind of broadcasting and publicity including the TV stations and those who published photos of people charged allegedly as plunderers.
Halili mentioned that “here, perhaps a crowd numbering over a thousand may have watched the parade in public compared with those millions who watched TV across the globe and photos in newspapers that can be read by millions even if these published suspects have not been proven guilty yet.” Saul Pa-a/PNA/northboundasia.com