WE cannot avoid asking this question. In fact, it is the question which every Filipino must consider in the face of alleged extrajudicial killings that are being carried out across the country to eradicate the menace of illegal drugs and the criticism such killings have sparked both at home and abroad.
This issue was the topic of discussion on ABS-CBN’s news channel ANC on Saturday night. Taking part in the debate from New York, the Asia director for Human Rights Watch roundly criticized the course of action President Rodrigo Duterte has chosen against the drug menace. The country will slip down the path to anarchy if the President did not change his ways and brought an end to this carnage, he warned.
Indeed, no one has the right to take the life of another human being. Such an act for whatever reason is loathsome. Once dead, the suspect has no chance to prove his innocence. Even some of those who have been judged guilty after a fair trial in a court of law have been found innocent with the benefit of late found evidence. This is why many countries have abolished death sentence as a form of judicial punishment.
Armchair moralistas who argue for due process, however, need think carefully about how to deal with extraordinary situations.
What seems to have been lost in this debate is the original instruction that Duterte voiced out before he took the oath of office as President. He asked the police to go after drug lords and drug pushers and shoot them IF they would fight back resisting arrest. Also being overlooked is the fact that hundreds who have surrendered to lead a clean life are continuing to live.
The instruction President Duterte gave the police was no different from the order the US president, Barrack Obama, issued to Operation Neptune Spear in May 2011 to capture or kill Osama bin Laden and later sat in the comforts of the White House watching on special telecast the Navy Seals landing on the building in Pakistan where bin Laden was fearlessly living, and finally shoot him to death. That action and other US drone attacks killing Al-Queda and ISIS operatives were extrajudicial killings; but they have not evoked condemnation from the UN Secretary General, the Human Rights Watch and others. They attracted only accolades.
The reason for it is understandable. These are enemies of humanity, the world community, and they need to be annihilated.
Another question, an uncomfortable one, therefore, is: Are the merchants of death – drug lords and pushers – who are destroying the lives of young people, families and, in the end, the future of our nation, any different from Al-Queda, ISIS and Abu Sayyaf terrorists? It is the fundamental question we all must ponder.
The President’s ways are unusual. Such ways have become the choice because none of the past administrations bothered to tackle the monstrosity of the drug menace, widespread corruption in government and other evils by the horn.
Legal minds that speak about the due process of law, which stipulates that a person remains innocent until proven guilty, need to rethink. Some situations warrant reversing this common law and putting the onus of proving innocence on the suspect. This has been done and made the law in other jurisdictions fighting corruption and such other menaces.
The logic behind is: Drug pushing and bribe-taking happen in secrecy without any witness to corroborate. So, when a public servant is found leading a life or in possession of wealth beyond his legitimate means, corruption busters simply bring him to court and ask him to prove his source of wealth.
Drug dealers can similarly be asked to prove their innocence. If drug lords and pushers do not fight back, it is reasonable to believe that they will be arrested and brought to justice.