I mean, President Duterte, who is emerging as our first anti-oligarch President ever, is better than being a leader presiding over the massacre of small-time drug pushers and addicts, intended to end the illegal drug menace his predecessor BS Aquino had allowed to flourish.
We Filipinos, who have a deep respect for human life, either because of Christianity or of Western humanism, are better than a people cheering the wanton murder of the underclass, most of whom were really driven by their misery to take drugs, and then sell them to others so they could afford their addiction. They certainly didn’t go into drugs to become rich but in order to numb themselves to the hellish life they were living.
TV news in the past weeks has become sickening, with its footages of alleged violent drug pushers – invariably in worn-out slippers, hunted down like rats in slum areas – shot by the police, allegedly because they fought back, or tried to grab a policeman’s gun even when they were hand-cuffed. An elderly father and his young son, both in dirty worn-out shirts, were shown arrested and handcuffed then shoved into a police vehicle. The TV reporter later reported they were killed as they put up a fight with their captors.
I am sick of watching police officers in TV news – I’ve seen probably a dozen of them from various precincts in the metropolis – telling us, as if we were idiots, that the alleged criminals were shot during a firefight after they grabbed their captors’ guns.
I am tired of seeing corpses of alleged drug pushers, with guns either in their hands or on the ground just a foot away, obviously intended as proof that they tried to shoot it out with the police. But isn’t it standard operating procedure for authorities after a deadly firefight to take the gun away from the criminal, in case in his last seconds of life he’d attempt to take a policeman down with him into the grave?
A vigilante group calling itself shamelessly, the Socialist Party of the Philippines, releases its video, boasting that it is Duterte’s armed group going after drug-pushers. The video shows a middle-aged woman begging for mercy, and promising to forever stop selling illegal drugs. A few seconds later, the video shows a vigilante in a talahiban (bush-covered lot) shooting the woman in the head, together with her four companions — all in slippers.
Several minutes later, the same TV network reports the raid on what the police claim is the lair of big-time drug dealers, with a stock of shabu worth hundreds of millions of pesos, as well as the equipment, materials and paraphernalia for preparing the illegal drugs for sale and distribution. Shown being arrested were two Taiwanese who operated that drug center, according to the police. There are no reports, days after, that the duo tried to escape and had to be shot by the police.
No bank accounts
I am looking forward to this paper’s reports on what happened to these Taiwanese big-time shabu manufacturers. I won’t be surprised if the Bureau of Immigration later reports it had to allow the two to leave the country, as there were no sufficient evidence filed by the police against them.
Your regular drug pushers in the neighborhood don’t have safes or bank accounts that contain millions of pesos: that is, I suspect, a main reason why about a hundred of them have been killed in the past few weeks and that not a single big-time drug lord has been sent to his grave.
I don’t think Duterte, nor his police chief Ronald del Rosa, ordered the police to summarily execute drug pushers and even addicts. As he himself said, he is a lawyer and knows what is illegal and what is legal in the way these cases are to be handled.
What Duterte wittingly or unwittingly has done with his I-will-kill-drug-criminals rhetoric and the statement that those in the police force who do the same in the line of duty may even be promoted by doing so, is to give them the impression they can indulge in their basest instincts, which had been suppressed by the gradual acceptance in the police force of the rule of law and of human rights advocacies in this country.
Many, many years ago, and hobnobbing with police reporters and even joining their coverage, I learned that in some precincts, especially in areas known to have serious crime problems, rookie policemen earned their place as comrades-in-arms only after they have executed a suspected criminal.
Even decades before Duterte, the real rules of engagement by the police in this concrete jungle was to shoot to kill suspects after a long chase, especially if they had guns, even if they had indicated an intent to surrender. I myself saw one such instance, right in front of our office in Quezon City, and that was long ago.
Many police officers during that period who rapidly rose through the ranks had built a reputation of shooting criminals dead, regardless of whether they engaged in a firefight or not. A few infamous police colonels were known to have enjoyed testing their brand new pistols and Armalites by using these on suspects.
This may sound unbelievable in this Catholic country, but many of these police officers and men justify their killings in their minds, by thinking: the suspect is known, anyway, as a hardened criminal — ‘just look at his tattoos’ — and that he would just continue harming and even killing innocent people, given that he’d easily post bail… That the prisons are so packed and a young suspect will be better off dead than suffer the hell he is bound to experience inside the jail. Or even that the policeman will be better off serving the country by not having to spend so much time in court when the criminal is prosecuted.
The Marcos way
Summary executions of illegal-drug suspects to stop their heinous business and to scare others from going the same direction are not the only option. These are really the lazy option.
Duterte should learn from the President he has stated he admired: the former strongman Ferdinand Marcos.
The strongman didn’t just get a Military Commission to convict and then execute by firing squad the drug lord and financer, Lim Seng, with photos of his execution on the front pages of all the four newspapers then. Few would remember that Marcos set up the legal and institutional framework for an anti-drug campaign, having Congress pass the Dangerous Drugs Act in March 1972, and after Martial Law was imposed, setting up the Dangerous Drugs Board under the Office of the President in November that year and in 1974, the Inter-Agency Committee on Drug Abuse Prevention Education.
What fewer people remember is that drug addicts and pushers were summarily rounded up even without charges and brought to the military’s, or the then Philippine Constabulary’s, stockades, where in the crudest ways — the sheer unavailability of the illegal drugs for months – they got rid of their addiction.
Many of these drug addicts actually were sent to the stockades where those detained were mostly political prisoners, which is the reason why the two biggest of such facilities in metropolitan Manila were called Ipil Rehabilitation Center and YouthRehabilitation Center. I know, as I was imprisoned in Ipil for two years (as a political prisoner, of course). It was after a few months that we would learn that this or that guy wasn’t really an activist but a drug addict.
Summary killings of small-time drug pushers and addicts to defeat the illegal drug scourge is not the only option, which is even a shameful one unfit for what could be our best presidency ever.
The better, really bolder option is, as Marcos did, only to “summarily” arrest and detain them, even for months. Duterte’s lawyers would, I’m sure, come up with a “legal” mode for catching the suspected small-time drug dealers, and throwing them into some facility in our military camps, not only in the metropolis but in the provinces. These poor souls will get rid of their addiction only if they are put in a place where it it is impossible for them to secure shabu for months – and that is not in regular jails where the drug is available, but in special detention centers far away, preferably run by the military.
These poor people, anyway, wouldn’t be able to hire expensive lawyers to file habeas corpus cases at the Supreme Court. With hundreds, or thousands of such cases, the Public Attorney’s Office, the Commission on Human Rights and the human rights lawyers, wouldn’t have the manpower to deal with all of them.
Duterte doesn’t have to build new prisons for these. In the 1970s, the Ipil Rehabilitation Center was a military training center converted overnight into a huge stockade. Military gyms with basketball courts — ubiquitous in our military camps — could very easily be refurbished as detention facilities, as a few were, in the first months of Martial Law.
Since the conquest of leprosy in the 1970s, much of the facilities of the Culion Sanitarium and Hospital (at one time the largest leper colony in the world), on a distant island in northern Palawan could be used, as soon as possible, as the maximum detention facility for the real drug lords who most probably are just not more than 50 in number.
An explosion of illegal detention cases? That’s better than the current explosion of summary killings.