SKIP the DU30 diehards and the Duterte critics. Throw this question to the unbiased man on the street. Do the police execute the drug suspects? “Aye” will be the unanimous answer. On whether the executions are justified, the answer will be less clear. Some will always favor the executions, given the horror associated with drug-related crimes. And the turpitude associated with drug-crazed minds. But on whether the police give value to the lives of suspected drug dealers, the public consensus is, there is none.
The Reuters video of Manila policemen killing three unarmed drug suspects in the city’s slums without a tinge of remorse just hews to the general SOP on how the state under DU30 deals with drug suspects. First is to kill them. Then, go through the motions of “ rushing “ them to hospital. Third, segue to the immediate filing of a report that explicitly states that the kills—and the operations that sanctioned the kills—are legit.
The next of kin of the dead drug suspects are then shooed away from the police stations after attempting to log the “ incidents “ in the police blotter.
No drug suspect has ever heard his or her Miranda rights. The attitude toward drug suspects is one of contempt and utter disdain.
The institutions and the ruling powers are “kunsintidor.” The dead drug suspects are deemed to be useless, wasted lives. The public, rendered ambivalent by both the reckless killings and the fear of drug-crazed minds, has lost its capacity for outrage.
The Reuters video, for all the gore and the official impunity it captured, is a day in the life of policemen working on the drug scene. Nothing extraordinary. Nothing new. It is also a day in the life of our death-numbed country.
But as in all things associated with impunity, there’s a rub. The outside world is not as numb as our society – and not as indifferent. With the exception of countries such as Russia, China and North Korea—countries used to purges, silencing of dissent and bloodletting—the Reuters video will just validate the growing international impression that extrajudicial killings routinely take place in the country and the government turns a blind eye to the EJKs.
And, emboldened by the indifference at home to the EJKs, our leaders will react by shrugging off the growing international uproar over the killings. One of those things. The expected collateral damage. The expected brutal wages of a no-nonsense drug war.
And with a booming domestic economy, who cares?
The smugness is wrong on all fronts.
First is the simple and very logical reason that a policy of reckless killing is not the only drug war strategy available to government. There is an entire menu of policy options and the choice of reckless killing is the least acceptable of those options.
Second is this. When the extreme end of a policy is employed, such as EJKs as part and parcel of the drug war, the mess that such policy generates tends to drag down, not lift up, society in general. Aside from the discussions and debates in the political and legislative sphere, the legal challenges to such policy, divide and polarize the nation – not unite it.
An analytics of the words that the media often use in the time of DU30 will lead us to these words: kill, EJK, plus the phrase riding in tandem. Before, under Mr. Aquino, it was the heartless and soulless “GDP.” It seems that under both regimes, there is nothing for the common man.
Third, it is wrong to assume that the outrage from the international community, the logical reaction to that Reuters video, will have no consequences whatsoever, given the popularity of Mr. Duterte and the strong showing of the economy.
An international perception that the state condones and abets EJKs will negatively impact on trade, official development assistance (ODA), cultural and academic exchanges and tourism. Who would want a preferential trading partner with a tainted reputation as a sponsor of EJKs? ODA conditions and terms of engagements are often predicated on certain parameters and one of these is a country that is respectful of human and individual rights.
Even if a leader of authoritarian bent now leads the US, the mainstream politicians from both major political parties have not abandoned traditional issues such as human and fundamental rights and there are plenty of civic institutions there with the same concern.
The kerfuffle between our leaders and the leaders of the European Union over human rights issues is testament to that concern. It is a bedrock issue and of serious concern to the EU.
Mr. Duterte can change course, of course, and find an anti-drug strategy that does not involve extrajudicial killings. A drug strategy with broad and popular support, not a drug war that is focused on a certain geography (the slums) and a particular quarry—the suspected drug dealer in that colony. Mr. Duterte assumed political power on the back of the disillusioned ordinary Joes left out by the social darwinism of Mr. Aquino.
Those disillusioned, as the Reuters video would show, are the ones mercilessly waylaid by the policy kills.
Will DU30 reverse gear? For the sake of those orphaned by the reckless kills, he should.