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We are better than this

At a party the other night, the conversation around the table was grim. There has just been too much violence, too many grave threats being aired by high officials against so called drug dealers and other criminals. And the bodies are piling up. The evening news starts and ends with reports on killings by police and vigilante groups of alleged criminals resisting arrest or drug pushers and users caught in the act of selling or using prohibited substances.

There is that disturbing scene caught on CCTV of a man who is begging for his life then running away only to be mercilessly gunned down. And what about those bodies wrapped in cardboard and packing tape labelled according to the crimes they allegedly committed?

Is this what President Duterte had in mind when he said he would clean up the country in the first six months of his presidency?  Is this what those who voted for him expected to happen?

He spoke simply, directly and toughly telling the drug lords, “I will kill you.” To the police, he said, if they kill a thousand, he will reward them. And to the public, he said that those who own guns could use them against bad elements in society.

At least 16 million Filipinos bought into his tough talk and elected him president. They wanted the country’s streets and communities rid of crime and drugs, just like Davao City where Duterte reigned supreme for over two decades. But a larger number of us rejected his dangerous rhetoric and voted for other candidates who support the rule of law where every person is entitled to his day in court. However, we have to respect that fact that he won the most number of votes and, for better or worse, he is our president. And he is now making good his word to rid the country of criminals in the first six months of his term.

And so we have today, Duterte’s Law, which allows law enforcers to shoot first and not to bother asking questions later. In the first two and a half weeks of his presidency, as many as 300 persons have been gunned down, summarily executed in extra judicial killings, most of which have been  perpetrated by State elements. There is no proof that they were involved in the drug trade, just the word of  the police and barangay officials.

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There are also reports of thousands of drug users and sellers who have volunteered to sign an agreement not to use or sell drugs again and undergo some kind of drug rehab, from counseling to bible study, in response to Duterte’s relentless war against anything that reeks of drugs. But there are also reports that such so-called volunteers are mere residents and stand-bys who are not necessarily involved in drugs, but are summoned wholesale by barangay officials to be randomly subjected to processing. 

Duterte did say he needed to inject fear in the public so that they take his anti-drug and criminality campaign seriously. That, he has succeeded in doing. After he named five police generals as protectors of drug lords without showing any kind of proof, we now see law enforcement officers avidly following Duterte’s law instead of the rule of law. This has translated into a climate of fear among the rank and file and the public who realize that the old rules no longer apply. Duterte’s law spares no one whom he wants to pin down.

The randomness of the official killing spree, the copycat murders and the vigilantism it has spawned, and the seeming lack of official interest in investigating these killings  have certainly injected fear into a terrified populace.

It could now happen to anyone. Anyone with an ax to grind against another could get away with murder by simply planting a bag of shabu on his victim’s body. Who knows, he may even get a reward for eliminating an alleged drug pusher. 

Social media is full of Duterte supporters who, despite the fact that their candidate has won, continue to bash anyone who posts a criticism of their idol. These fanatics are so empowered by their idol’s victory and rhetoric that they freely spout hate speech and threats of murder and mayhem against their perceived enemies. What will happen if they begin to act out their threats against such persons?

Duterte’s followers seem to be supportive of the bloodbath, lustily cheering every report of another alleged pusher biting the dust. Those who, like Senator Leila de Lima, dare speak out against the extrajudicial killings, are assaulted with hate speech and threats of bloody murder. During the campaign, when hate speech was reaching its peak, I asked rhetorically, where has civility gone? Today, the question is, where has the rule of law gone?

I believe that the  Filipino people are better than that bloodthirsty mob out there. Our police are generally decent and law abiding public servants who are informed about and respect human rights. But they are compelled by their leaders to meet quotas and deadlines.

Whoever we are, whoever we supported in the elections, we are basically a moral people who value civility, human life and human dignity. No matter who our leaders are, we must rise above the muck of their warped values. Let us not forget that we are a noble race, a nation of heroes.

 

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