THE interlocking stories of the kidnapping-murder of Jee Ick-joo and the bloody war on drugs reminds me of the old proverb, “it’s the last straw that will break the camel’s back.”
The proverb was recorded by Thomas Fuller in his Gnomologia as “Tis the last feather that breaks the horse’s back.” it comes from an Arab proverb about loading up a camel beyond its capacity to move, to the scenario of a single straw of grass or hay overwhelming the desert-roaming beast of burden.
Straw or feather, horse or camel, the lesson, as in Aesop’s fables, is that a small and seemingly insignificant addition to a burden can render it too much to bear, causing failure.
I don’t know if Jee is victim no. 6,000 or 6,001 in the drug war, but from the look of things, his killing by the police as a supposed drug bust is a burden that is proving too much for the drug war to bear.
Nobody to wage drug war
Just when we thought the drug war was intransigent and unstoppable, it went bonkers by kidnapping and murdering the South Korean businessman. All of a sudden, the drug war has been deprived of troops to wage it.
President Duterte on Tuesday ordered all police to stop prosecuting his deadly war on drugs as he shifted attention to cleansing the PNP of widespread corruption and abuse.
He announced: “I have ordered the police to stop all operations. No policemen in this country anywhere is allowed to enforce laws related to the drug campaign.”
Duterte described the police force as “corrupt to the core”. He said he would cleanse the PNP before allowing it to return to the drug war frontlines; in the meantime, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) would take the lead with the support of the military.
PNP Director-general Ronald dela Rosa immediately followed suit. He issued this directive: “Starting today, I am dissolving the Anti-Illegal Drugs Group (AIDG) and all anti-drug units from the national level down to the police station level. All of these are now dissolved and deactivated. No more anti-drug operation.”
Dela Rosa said the PNP would only resume anti-drug operations once it succeeded in cleansing its ranks. He created a counter-intelligence task force that would go after police officers engaging in criminal activities, including the illegal drug trade.
So, no more Oplan Tokhang, the police visits to the homes of drug suspects. No more Operation Double Barrel, the deadly component of the drug war.
DU30 stopped short of waving the white flag in his drug campaign; he defiantly extended the drug war to the end of his term in 2022. This way, he held out the grim prospect of more killings of drug suspects down the road.
Sweeping review of drug war
The posture avoids an open declaration of defeat, and affords the hordes of Duterte fanatics some space to still flex their muscles and vent their spleen.
But the reality is that the drug war will now undergo a sweeping review. The extent of police wrongdoing will be unearthed. The mistakes of the drug policy will be recognized and corrected. The entire drug campaign will be placed under strict control and brought soundly within the parameters of the law.
Review should begin with bringing out the facts of the real drug situation. Regardless of the stark contradictions to DU30’s exaggerated drug statistics and grim prognosis of a nascent narco-state, investigators must not flinch from recognizing the facts and telling the truth.
The Senate inquiry notoriously failed to bring out the true picture of the drug situation. It did not ask the Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) and PDEA to make a credible, factual presentation at the inquiry. Far more useful are the special reports and fact-checking of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), Rappler, newspapers, and some social researchers and graduate students at the University of the Philippines (UP). They presented, in my view, a more accurate picture of the drug situation, and they persuaded me that the country is far from lost to the drug menace, contrary to what DU30 was telling us.
Even so, there is this to be said on the positive side about the drug campaign. Leaving the summary killings and police abuses aside, it made a strong affirmation of law and order. Crimes of all kinds were held to a lower norm. But how lasting this will be remains to be seen.
Respite from the killings
It’s vital I believe that we draw the right conclusions and lessons from this new development in the war on drugs.
Some critics may insist on making DU30 eat humble pie or swallow his boasts. They will be tempted to indulge in triumphalism. Human Rights Watch has quickly weighed in with a caustic comment.
I do not think this is a victory for the ideology of human rightism (of which I wrote in one column), which Duterte rightly rejected as a derogation of state sovereignty. The fight should focus on upholding the rule of law and due process, which ensure the protection of human rights.
We will mercifully have some respite for a while from hearing DU30 cursing foreign officials and organizations for criticizing his drug war.
What we really need and long for is respite and relief from the killings. But the other day, when the new directives were going out across the archipelago, five more people were killed in the drug war. More is amiss with our country than we realize. We probably stood just a hair’s breadth away from becoming a police state.
The Jee Ick-joo case is a bar which our criminal justice system must hurdle.