THERE’S A disconnect in the war of words between President Duterte and his critics in the ongoing campaign against illegal drugs.
His critics are condemning the means employed, while the President is defending the goal he seeks to achieve. The goal is to cleanse the country of illegal drugs. The means employed is best described by the number of casualties it has produced.
Critics are supportive of the goal, but strongly disapprove of the means used. However, the President treats the criticisms as a wholesale condemnation of both goal and means used. Many of his supporters also treat the criticisms as a blanket opposition to the goal of ridding the country of the scourge of illegal drugs.
Philippine National Police chief Ronald dela Rosa has admitted that a total of 1,900 people have been killed during the seven-week period starting on July 1, in relation to the campaign against illegal drugs. That’s an average of 39 deaths daily. Of the total number, 756 were killed during police operations and 1,160 were murdered by vigilantes.
This rate of killings is unprecedented in the history of the Philippines, except for the years it was at war against three foreign colonizers. The exceptions are the fatalities during its war for independence against Spain in the 1890s, the Philippine-American war of the early 1900s, and the war against Japan during World War II in the 1940s.
President Duterte has repeatedly stated that the shabu sold in the country is coming in wholesale quantities from China. The Chinese ambassador has been called to task for this influx of illegal drugs. It remains in the realm of possibilities that Mr. Duterte may later frame this deluge of drugs from China as a modern plot by an aspiring colonial power to subjugate, distract, or disrupt this country. However, the current “war” against illegal drugs is resulting in the killing of Filipinos by fellow Filipinos, and not by foreign forces, as what happened in the past wars against colonial powers.
The supporters of the bloody means employed in the fight against illegal drugs decry the critics’ refusal to concede to the need for an iron-fist solution to stop the spread of the drug menace. On the other hand, the critics assail the supporters for refusing to recognize the grave dangers of a rampaging police force that is encouraged “to kill” without a reliable system of accountability for abuse of powers.
The supporters also accuse the critics of lack of sympathy for the victims of the many crimes spawned by the use of illegal drugs. And the critics condemn the supporters’ lack of empathy for victims of police abuses that include collateral damage, mistaken identity, planted evidence, and summary killings.
The supporters further slam the critics for refusing to acknowledge the existence of corrupt judges who acquit drug lords. On the other hand, the critics condemn the supporters for refusing to acknowledge the existence of corrupt policemen who blackmail innocent civilians or plant evidence to justify summary killings.
A gun-wielding and corrupt policeman who can instantaneously impose the death penalty is far more dangerous than a gavel-wielding and corrupt judge who can only impose imprisonment as penalty.
Indeed, the most overused reason to justify support for the summary killing of suspected drug personalities by policemen is the unreliability of the judicial system because of corrupt judges. Even if we concede that there are indeed plenty of corrupt judges, why should we now entrust our lives to policemen who are equally or even more notorious of corruption?
When did the police force undergo a sudden transformation from one of the most corrupt government institutions into the most squeaky clean organization that can be entrusted with the absolute power to summarily divine life or death for all of us?
The police force that is presiding over a bloody campaign against three million drug dependents, as estimated by the President, is the same police force that we have been condemning in the recent past as having a long record of notoriety. And yet, we are giving these policemen god-like powers to define life, death, or the misery of life imprisonment for any of us.
President Duterte may have all the good intentions in defining the goal to rid the country of illegal drugs, but the means to achieve this goal is left entirely to a police force that has not been cleansed of members with a history of ill intentions.
Only a few days ago, a businessman close to powerful politicians was kidnapped by policemen and given the choice: Pay millions of pesos for his freedom or he will be accused of having several kilos of shabu in his possession. He was forced to pay up because the intervention of his politician-friends was insufficient to secure his release.
As they recover their footing, rogue policemen now deprived of lucrative protection money from drug syndicates may be able to fine-tune a systematic scheme to blackmail innocent civilians.
President Duterte may have set out to eradicate the public’s fear of drug personalities. But in his haste to deliver results, he is unwittingly giving rise to an even bigger fear of criminals who wear uniforms, carry licensed weapons, and are shielded with a “presumption of regularity” in all the killings and arrests that they make.
Fear is not being banished from this nation. It’s one fear being replaced by a bigger kind of fear.