Over the past few months, several collections of illegally imported, high-end motorcycles and luxury cars have been destroyed in the Philippines under the orders of President Rodrigo Duterte. The destruction was part of a political statement under the highly controversial president’s anti-corruption campaign. Smuggling is a pressing matter, but no one seems to take it quite as seriously as Duterte.
A recent shipment of more than 800 illegally imported vehicles is slowly being destroyed through a series of similar and highly publicized events, at the president’s request. Most recently, $5.2 million worth of confiscated vehicles were destroyed July 31, 2018. Similar events occurred on May 30, June 13, and February 7, 2018. The value of the crushed vehicles reached hundreds of thousands of dollars each time, with the display on June 13 resulting in $500,000 worth of destruction.
In order to crush the vehicles, Duterte ordered the use of a bulldozer and excavator. The acts were carried out in public displays, and televised in order to have the maximum impact. During the event, the bulldozers systematically plowed over rows upon rows of neatly lined-up bikes, cars and other vehicles. In its wake, the machine leaves nothing but crumpled metal and broken glass behind. The scene is cringe-worthy and uncomfortable for any spectator, especially both motorcycle and car enthusiasts.
Among the destroyed motorcycles were many premium bikes from manufacturers including Triumph, Harley-Davidson, BMW and others. One Harley, alone, was valued at more than $15,000. Dozens of mopeds and other less-expensive bikes, including Vespas, were crushed, as well. Luxury cars were also destroyed in the publicized acts, including a Lamborghini Gallardo, a handful of 996- and 997-generation Porsche 911s, and several BMWs and Mercedes-Benz models. In the mix, onlookers also caught sight of several Nissan 350Zs and a Toyota Celica. A C-3 generation Corvette, and less-likely vehicles, like Ford Explorers and Chevy SSRs, were among the mix, too.
Duterte, who is an avid biker, himself, expressed remorse for several of the high-end motorcycles being destroyed. Upon witnessing the destruction, the president is quoted as saying “When the bulldozer’s teeth fell on the Harley, I felt like being hit on my back, too. Ouch. I regret it.”
After being destroyed, the crushed vehicles were reportedly sold to metal recyclers, who dismantled the wreckage further. While the destruction is seen by some as a necessary statement about smuggling, there is a lot of controversy over the stunt. Those who oppose the crushing of so many valuable vehicles wonder why the president could not have just auctioned the cars and motorcycles off, instead of turning them into rubble.
There is no clear answer as to exactly why the cars could not be put to some better use, instead of being destroyed on public television. However, it is worth noting that the country is in the midst of a major tax enforcement push, in order to raise more than $180 billion to fund infrastructure in the Philippines. Given that the value of auctioning the cars would not go very far toward this goal, it could be argued that there was no point in even trying.
Unfortunately, according to the president, auctioning would have also done nothing to solve the problem, and may have, in fact, furthered it. Those responsible for illegally importing the vehicles in the first place could’ve easily used aliases in order to buy back the smuggled goods, and completed their initial goal of bypassing customs and legal importation steps. If the cars were auctioned rather than destroyed, the vehicles would’ve still ended up in the economy, and disrupted legitimate auction practices. Furthermore, if the corrupt individuals who originally brought the vehicles into the country were able to bid on them, other bidders would’ve been at a disadvantage in the rigged auction.
Duterte hopes that the decision to wreck all of the vehicles will persuade smugglers to cease their illegal activities in the Philippines. In the past, the Bureau of Customs was permitted to seize illegally imported items in order to make a profit that would generate more funds for the government. However, this practice still allowed smugglers to cheat the government, which is why Duterte put an end to the practice – for good. Under his direction, any importers who attempt to cheat the system will have their goods seized and publicly destroyed. These actions make a strong statement about the president’s stance on the matter.
At any rate, putting a vehicle up for sale on an auction block, potentially keeping the smuggler from making a profit, is far less dramatic than running a bulldozer over a line of high-end luxury vehicles. The public display makes it very clear that the president will not take smuggling lightly.
While it may come as a shock to some that the president would order the destruction of high-end luxury vehicles and motorcycles, it is simply part of an ongoing tirade against perceived corruption in the political system.
Unfortunately, this is not the only instance of Duterte taking extreme action in order to prove a point or make his opinion clear. The president is infamous for his unorthodox – and downright hostile – approach toward those he deems to be lawbreakers. While destroying a line of luxury motorcycles and cars is hard to see for enthusiasts, the president’s viewpoints become much more serious matter when it comes to his attitudes toward other “lawbreakers.” Duterte has gone as far in his efforts as to endorse vigilante justice against drug users, as well as petty criminals and homeless individuals, even including children who happen to live in the streets.
Death squads, operating under the direction of Duterte, were reportedly responsible for more than 1,400 extrajudicial killings while the now-president was serving as the mayor of the city of Davao. Under his presidency, the killings have continued, with independent observers reporting more than 12,000 deaths occurring at the president’s request. Opposing politicians have indicated that death tolls have exceeded 20,000. While the exact figures may be unknown, Duterte has gone on record encouraging Philippine citizens to take matters into their own hands by killing known drug users.