Because Kian de los Santos is dead at 17

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ANTONIO P. CONTRERAS

IF there is one death from the drug war waged by President Duterte that may just redraw the narrative, it will be that of Kian delos Santos, dead at the age of 17.

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Even some of the most diehard loyalists of the President have expressed their horror and misgivings.

It is not even material if he was indeed in possession of shabu, or that he is in fact a peddler of illegal drugs. What is material is the fact that there are just too many questions about the circumstances surrounding his death.

His death, or at least the events that preceded it, was caught on tape. And the images were indeed unsettling. The image of two men on both sides, practically dragging what looked like Kian, and another one following, in the direction of an alley where at the end of it his body was found minutes after, lying in a pool of blood.

Legal minds will of course argue that the images do not convince beyond reasonable doubt, for one has to establish whether indeed that boy in the video was Kian. It also does not show what exactly transpired in the alley.

But three armed policemen versus a 17-year-old already in their custody is very much in the same league of one who is already arrested and in handcuffs but who still manages to grab a gun. They both raise reasonable doubt.

And it looks like reasonable doubt is now forming even in the minds of those who support the Duterte government.

After all, even the President himself has admitted that his drug war has not done as much as he promised. He underestimated the magnitude and extent of the drug problem, even as he over-estimated the capacity of government agents to quell it.

It is logical to speculate that one way to address this problem is by simply intensifying the killing. And there is good reason to suppose that this is a direction that is now being taken, as seen in the magnitude of drug-related arrests and killings that happened recently in Bulacan and in Metro Manila.

It is in this context, perhaps, that Kian is dead at 17.

Indeed, the natural course of action to address a lag in performance is to double the pace. But this is not just about planting trees or servicing indigent families, for which one can simply work extra hours to meet, if not exceed targets. We are talking about human lives here.

Kian may be a drug peddler, a courier as reports have alleged, but this was for the law to establish, and not for some eager-beaver police operative rushing to show results to decide with finality and inflict the irreversible penalty of death on someone who is just 17.

There is no problem when those who are killed are criminals who shoot it out with the police, for which rules of engagement would warrant a takedown. But doubling the pace when lives are involved can also drive people eager to show results to cut corners and take quick fixes, and then be comforted by the thought that they would be like that other Marcos in Albuera, Leyte, who is even facing a possible promotion despite being found with probable cause to have the crime of drug-related homicide.

The death of Kian will have to make us think beyond the rage that we feel when at the other side of the narrative we have those drug-crazed addicts raping and killing seven-year old girls and pregnant women. After all, even as the Commission on Human Rights does not see these as part of their terms of reference, the law-enforcement agencies and the courts already take jurisdiction over these criminals, where they are brought to justice.

But justice is not to be confused with vengeance, that we can even tolerate the death of innocent lives as collateral damage, or totally ignore the law and rules of engagement.

Faced with an unfulfilled promise to eliminate the drug problem in six months, the President must now recalibrate his drug war.

The key is to go beyond the point of consumption and the petty distribution channels, and begin giving more attention to the supply side, the bigtime sources and the major players. The President should choke the points of entry, and the major points of distribution. The audacity of the attempt to smuggle billions worth of shabu into the country is but an indication that the problem exists because the drug flow continues to run the course. And here, what will eventually be revealed is that the key players are not people like Kian but the narco-politicians and the rogue agents of law enforcement that nurture the drug trade not for subsistence like the petty pushers and dealers in dark alleys, but for capital accumulation and the seeking and maintenance of political power.

This would include looking into the angle being peddled by some fertile minds that Kian’s death was allegedly a move by narco-politicians to smear the President and divert attention away from controversial issues threatening their political interests.

The President has been brandishing a list of bigtime drug lords and narco-politicians, which in all certainty will not include the name of a Kian delos Santos, now dead at 17.

It is about time authorities focus on them, but always in the ambit of the law and the rules of proper engagement.

If we violate the law to uphold it, we are not in any way making the law rule over us. We do not solve crime by violating the law to kill criminals. We in fact just add one more crime to the statistics.

So Mr. President, shall we begin?

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